(act)ivism

These days it can sometimes seem like your social media feeds are filled with political statements, people arguing over controversial issues, one-sided perspectives, and what some call “slacktivism.”

This term essentially refers to activism of the digital world.  Examples of this include the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and #BlackLivesMatter.  These campaigns are tools to gain widespread awareness.  The goal can also be to raise money (i.e. donations for ALS) or to initiate political/social change.  In any case, many people have been skeptical of how activism can actually work by simply appealing to people behind their computer or phone screens.  In other words, how can it actually be considered activism, if the individuals don’t seem to actually act?

First, let’s consider this:  What does it actually mean to be an activist?

The following screenshot is taken from Activists Rights Organization website.

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 9.55.09 PM

The definition states perhaps one of the most significant aspects of what many people consider “slacktivism”- many people may not actually view themselves as activists in their daily lives, even if their actions are representative of activism.  In other words, people participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge may have known that the challenge was meant to raise awareness and donations towards ALS, but wouldn’t actually consider themselves someone interested in going further with it.  The problem with online activism is that because it is so “easy” or less commitment, people view it as not authentic.  However, this is not just limited to activism using technology – you are probably asked often to make a donation to a charity when purchasing your groceries.  You might donate a dollar or two every once in a while, but would you then consider yourself an activist?

Regardless, these small acts are better than nothing.  I think it is important to always be a critical thinker and not a passive consumer of every popular trend, however I don’t think this should impede an individual’s ability to remain optimistic.  Sure, these online campaigns can be controversial (read: problems with slacktivism) but if they have the ability to raise awareness, keep people educated and informed, or potentially raise donations for a good cause, that is a powerful thing.  For examples, this list is a brief overview of some successful online activism.  We should move away from negative thinking and associating people’s good intentions with a term such as “slacktivism” and begin to place more focus on the power of social media in regards to social change and the potential to make a difference from behind your own computer screen.

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One thought on “(act)ivism

  1. I share similar feelings about the idea behind social media campaigns. As I read through the different perspectives, I find myself challenging by beliefs about how effective these campaigns actually are. This is what really stood out to me in your post.

    “Regardless, these small acts are better than nothing. I think it is important to always be a critical thinker and not a passive consumer of every popular trend, however I don’t think this should impede an individual’s ability to remain optimistic.”

    I think as teachers, it is our responsibility to teach our students how to be “critical thinkers” to understand the difference between a campaign that may be a scam and to be able to understand what campaigns are important for them. A lot of people have discussed the idea of slacktivism, which highlights social media campaigns as “useless” because no real activism is taking place. I’ve been struggling with this idea because even though individuals who partake may not be activists, these campaigns still prove to raise awareness and money for a particular cause. It wasn’t until I read your post that I was able to understand my perspective. I do not think people who participate or donate necessarily label themselves as an activist and I do not think that should be considered problematic because at the end of the day there is still good intentions behind the individual’s choice to participate. Thanks for your thoughts!

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