Say no to slacktivism

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Just because you changed a profile pic doesn’t mean you’ve changed the world

Article: Farron Ager – Oped Editor

Let us watch then, you and I / as the Facebookers click by and by / like a patient etherized upon a table.

Another November is upon us and, with it, another month of Movember, where hordes beards everywhere begin to sprout from the clean-shaven in the name of prostate cancer awareness. And yet, while the event brings awareness to a formerly underrepresented cause, as well as serving as an appropriate foil to already well-established breast cancer awareness programs, I find myself asking: how many people are actually doing anything more than just refusing to shave for a month?

It’s become such a problematic and yet so popular of a concept in our brave new social-media oriented world that we finally had to create term to make the armchair revolutionaries cringe: ‘slacktivism.’ A pejorative portmanteau of slacker and activism, slacktivism generally deals with individuals undertaking the path of involvement that offers the least resistance. Generally, this path often results in doing literally the least one could do. We’ve seen it time and time again through various social media campaigns: changing your Facebook profile picture to combat child abuse, KONY 2012, and, more recently, the Red Equal Sign campaign to support same-sex marriage. While the causes behind these campaigns are indeed worthwhile, it seems like the majority of supporters behind these campaigns are tried-and-true slacktivists, as the majority either change their Facebook profile picture or share a video or write a couple lines about how such and such atrocity shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

Proponents of these social media campaigns will argue that gestures, regardless of how small, still bring attention to these issues and that statement is entirely fair. And yet, simultaneously, saying that you’re spreading awareness, for some, can act as a ‘get out of jail free’ card and lets the world know that they’ve done their due diligence. Surely, they’ve helped the cause. Surely there is nothing more they could do than bring awareness to the subject. By having people participating in a social media campaign, it screams “let someone else do it for me!” Because, let’s face it, even if you just change a picture, you can still say you did something.

The problem doesn’t lie in the campaigns themselves. Rather, the problem finds itself nuzzled in a Huxleyesque generation participating in this unprecedented digital golden age. Once they’ve changed their profile picture or have written a couple of lines demonstrating their distaste or flat-out hatred for one atrocity or another, they become placated by the notion that they’ve done their job and move onto another social media campaign. With so much information available to quivering fingertips, we’ve adapted to handle the multitude of things that grasp for our attention by distributing that attention over as many social outrages as possible. Remember how quickly KONY 2012 died? Yeah, you do.

The solution to slacktivism is obvious, but it calls on the already unwilling to do a bit more work. It becomes a question of genuine intent. There are plenty of ways for people to help out a cause, but it generally boils down to just being an active member in your community and actually working towards change rather than taking the path of least resistance.

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