In our information-rich world, activist and advocacy groups trying to get attention for particular causes increasingly rely on social media as a means of building support. Forms of advocacy urging users to “like” or “share” posts, pages, videos, etc on social networking sites are often referred to as “slacktivism” or “armchair activism”. Slacktivism is a term for giving token support for a cause, like wearing a pin or “liking” something on Facebook, without being willing to engage in more meaningful support, like donating time or money. These activities pose minimal cost, time and effort to participants. One click to like, retweet, or share and the slacktivist feels as if they have contributed to the cause, when in reality they don’t even have to move from behind the screen of their electronic device.
However according to Howard (2008), Advocating for a cause on social media does not automatically make you a slacktivist and this sort of online activism is not necessarily a bad thing. Social media allows users to organize, network and share what they’re passionate about in a way that wasn’t previously available and the ability to communicate quickly and on a global scale enables the spread of knowledge. It’s now easier than ever to learn about causes and share information. Citizen journalists, tweeters, and Facebook users across the globe certainly serve us by erasing divisions based on gender, religion, race, and nationality, but the unfortunate truth remains that these so-called “slacktivists” rarely take any real further action when they go offline. Someone who “likes” a cause on Facebook wouldn’t be any more likely to donate in the future than someone who had no exposure to the cause at all.
Social media isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to activism, it is simply a platform through which people can connect and raise awareness for certain issues. Social networking sites, primarily, Facebook and Twitter need to be seen as more of a relationship-building tool rather than a fundraising tools (Earnhardt 2013). By themselves they do little to further social causes but people are more likely to participate when they see what their network cares about and decides to care about it too. For example the more exposure an issue receives the higher the chances of gaining support just like you are more likely to support a campaign if your friends and family are endorsing it.
Howard, R. G 2008, “The Vernacular Web of Participatory Media”, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 490-513.
Earnhardt, J 2013, Cisco Social Media Policy, Cisco Blogs, Weblog post, 15 June, viewed 9 May 2014, <https://blogs.cisco.com/news/cisco_social_media_guidelines_policies_and_faq/>.