Donald Trump’s election was a catalyst for advocating change in all fields. As more and more people start to get involved with contemporary issues in the world, you would think that more impactful change is being made across the board. However, as more people take the time and effort to learn about present-day issues, a form of activism has risen to popularity: slacktivism.  Slacktivism is essentially “supporting” a cause through ineffectual and low-cost efforts, and many people do not know the distinction between actual activism and this. Slacktivism enables an individual to fulfill their desire for both emotional and social validation, in an easy and convenient way, which is why many people opt to do forms of slacktivism instead of taking the time to figure out ways to directly help their causes.

For example, signing an online petition is a form of slacktivism, because it takes only a few minutes to complete, and people think that their signature will help contribute to invoking change. Although petitions seem like a great way to invoke change, petitions cannot legally change anything. For example, when net neutrality was repealed by the Federal Communications Commision (FCC), there were a plethora of petitions created to stop the repeal. Although there were many signatures, no legal change occurred, and soon activism for net neutrality became thing of the past. Why? Because the FCC and many other government commissions will not suddenly change their vote because of petitions. Additionally, for a petition to have some effect, it has to be seen by someone in power, for example, an elected representative. This is a very difficult task due to a lack of professionalism of many petitions, and the high influx of messages elected representatives receive every day.

Unicef’s blunt yet pragmatic message to its followers

Another form of slacktivism is through social media. Some users change their profile picture to something involving an activist related theme, thinking that’s what counts as “activism.” However, this does not influence any change whatsoever and is a feeble attempt to accomplish anything. Additionally, after a major natural disaster or terrible event in general occurs, millions of people log onto their social media and retweet and repost articles about the event, with a caption offering some sort of sympathy. For example, after the 2015 Paris attacks, the hashtag #PrayForParis was created and gained traction across all social media platforms. However, simply posting this hashtag does not help in any way, other than bringing about awareness to something that already has plenty of awareness. There were fundraisers for the victims’ families etc. however more attention was drawn toward the hashtag. If more people focused their time on donating and sharing fundraiser links, social media would have had a greater impactful effect.  UNICEF Sweden even points this fault out, and states, “[l]ikes don’t save lives. Money does.” As blunt as this may seem, it’s true. Although donating may be seen as slacktivism due to its easiness, it directly helps the cause, which is much more beneficial than other forms of slacktivism.

Now some may think that generating awareness could result in others taking direct action by donating or volunteering. Although forms of slacktivism can be useful in bringing awareness to certain issues and events, there is a very low chance that it will prompt others to take direct action. In fact, “[a]ccording to a study done by researchers at Michigan State University, [slacktivism] normally only reaches to other low-cost, low-risk solutions like signing an online petition but not contributing any money.”

We need to start committing more time and energy into making impactful change through direct actions and contributions. For example, financial and material donations to charities and fundraisers can directly help your cause, especially in the case of natural disasters. Volunteering is also an effective way to create direct change and is a meaningful way to help your cause. In this day and age, change it crucial to uphold our democracy, and slacktivism will not contribute to this.

Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

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