Slacktivism

Social Media activism is not real

Mooney and Pester stand with former US senator Claire McCaskill

Laura Pester

Mooney and Pester stand with former US senator Claire McCaskill

Whether it be reposting a picture for virtual “prayers” or tweeting a hashtag to show solidarity, these small movements are destroying the importance of in-person activism. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are just a few of the many social media platforms used by 3.5 billion people around the world, according to ourworldindata.org, and as these platforms becomes increasingly more popular, so does the facade of internet activism. Politics and calls for social justice issues have been forced behind a phone screen, taking away from the real-life movements. This process is popularly known as “slacktivism” and is the result of apathetic citizens.

Social media has provided its users with an easy way to stay in the safety of their homes, vocalizing their desires for change while failing to produce any effective differences. Retweeting a tweet about immigration laws is not going to help anyone. Posting a picture that someone else took of pollution is not inspiring companies to make a change. Slacktivism only reaches low-risk solutions, according to a study done by researchers at the University of Michigan. In the study, Sonya Dal Cin, a professor of communication studies, asked 178 college students to view three social cause videos and then randomly assigned them to post one of the videos either publicly on their own Facebook timeline or anonymously on a third-party’s Facebook timeline. The participants then indicated their willingness to donate or engage in other behaviors to help the social cause whose video they chose to share. Participants who shared a video about a social cause publicly were more willing to donate than those who shared anonymously, all according to news.umich.edu. The results of this study show that students were only willing to donate if their social media followers were able to see their donations. The anonymity of social media makes slacktivism “low-risk” because users have the safety of not being pressured by other users to donate or support certain groups.

“It’s important we aren’t just complacent when it comes to everything going on in our lives, even if we are just kids,” Junior Riley Mooney said. “We need to be the ones who stand up and say ‘This is the day history is made.’”

Engaging in activism via instagram and twitter loses the face to face contact, eliminating the passion that creates a change in the world. Although “slacktivism” can help spread information about some social or environmental issues, the outcomes are usually in the form of sympathy rather than real change. The passing of information that comes with internet activism is crucial to the planning and execution of protests, but it is not enough to stay behind the screen.

“Digital-age movements tend to be organizationally toothless, good at barking at power but bad at forcing ultimatums or chewing through complex negotiations,” author Zeynep Tufekci said according to npr.org. “The missing ingredients [are] communication patterns that appear when a fixed group works together over time. And it is why, despite their limits in communication, earlier protests often achieved more.”

In Tufekci’s book “Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest”, she analyzes internet activism and its benefits vs. faults according to newyorker.com.

Protests that take place outside of the cyber world have a much larger impact on our government. The March on Washington had around two hundred thousand attendees, according to nps.org, March For Our Lives in 2017 had around two million participants according to BusinessInsider.com, and most recently the 2019 Women’s March had roughly seven hundred thousand participants according to washingtonpost.com. The large amounts of participants at these events are what inspired monumental change like the increase of civil rights and liberties. By showing up and gathering together, protesters are refusing to be ignored whereas internet activism is easily overlooked.

Without the marching and protesting, the changes that derived from these events could not have occurred. These people stepped out of their comfort zones,away from their cell phones and made a difference. Those who call themselves activists need to analyze their actions, and ask themselves if they are falling victim to slacktivism.