The Slactivism of the Social Media Generation

Click, like, share, retweet, favourite… one word commands are all it takes for the social media generation to participate in a campaign. Long gone are the days where bright young things cramped around their parents wallpaper pasting table, painting banners and posters to hang from their dorm rooms and take to the streets. What happened to “proper” activism?

As the popularity of the internet and social media has grown, attention spans have waned. In 2013 the average attention span was 8 seconds – less than that of a Goldfish at 9 seconds.

Slactivism is the new “thing”. Whilst many people won’t define their actions as slacktivism, one must ask them whether they really think that simply sharing or retweeting a post on Facebook and Twitter would actually make a difference to the cause they are allegedly trying to help. Does it perhaps do more damage than good? It could potentially trivialise the campaign and encourage social media users to not pay as much attention to the cause.

Slacktivism has been defined as actions performed on the internet in support of a cause, political or social, and are regarded as requiring little time. Scottish blogger Neil Scott claims that slactivism brings “an ‘altruistic street-cred’. A selfish altruism.”

Social “Media activism” unknowingly seeks to de-politicise causes. It would seem that a desire for a viral campaign of promotion tops the desire for a campaign that actually sees real results.

Last year saw a number of campaigns that could be considered the work of slactivism. What of the #icebucketchallenge or #nomakeupselfie? The Ice Bucket Challenge was a viral social media sensation over the summer of 2014 raising awareness and funding for various Motor Neurone Disease charities. The New York Times estimated that over 1.2 videos of the challenge were posted on Facebook the 1st June and 13th August. Whilst £7 million was raised in the UK, and $600 in the USA, not to mention the money raised in Europe, all very large sums of money that the charities wouldn’t otherwise have had, how many of these people will become regular donors to the cause? Or will they just move onto the next cause. Journalists described the stunt as a “middle-class wet tshirt contest”

A hashtag and a narcissistic social media post are not a substitute for real and sustained campaigning. It takes a split second to share a post on social media networks declaring that you may or may not totally agree or totally hate a cause or idea, but surely that sentiment is empty? Sharing a declaration or protest on social media is about as useful as an empty back account.

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