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Ode to Slacktivism


Labelling another’s efforts as ‘slacktivism’ is normally meant as criticism. Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:

The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist.

Of course, mine is a blog that interprets the word ‘batshite’ positively. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I have certain reservations with slacktivism’s popularly accepted definition.

It’s true that slacktivism often requires minimal effort. Changing your Facebook profile picture to decry child abuse, retweeting an important message, signing an online petition, writing a politically charged blog post–these are all behaviours which remove very little skin from one’s back.

And it’s also true that the motivation to be a slacktivist is frequently to “feel good”. After committing an act of slacktivism one often experiences a momentary sense of endorphin-infused accomplishment. As well, if society goes to shit despite one’s slacktivism, one will feel justified in saying, “Don’t look at me–I signed the petition!”

The part of the canonical definition with which I differ–indeed, with which I take umbrage–is the part that claims slacktivism has “little or no practical effect.” And that’s not only because I think slacktivism effects positive social change on a broad scale. It’s also because I think that without slacktivism, activists would be rendered virtually ineffective.

Activism has never been the narrow story of a few dedicated people changing society all by themselves. Participation in the 20th century’s civil rights movement–which Malcolm Gladwell contrasts with today’s online activism in his indictment of the latter–wasn’t limited to a fraction of Americans conducting sit-ins. They certainly catalyzed progress in a big way, but credit for the movement’s success isn’t theirs alone. There were also millions of people worldwide who recognized the inequality being protested and talked about it to others, and wrote letters about it. They spread the word, raising the issue’s profile, and eventually the pressure became so great that positive social change was inevitable.

Activism is a spectrum, and most people involved expend only small amounts of time and effort. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s necessary. Not everyone has the courage to risk arrest or the time and resources required to become an expert on a given cause. But there’s one thing everyone is an expert on, and that’s what they feel is right. This is the only qualification necessary to be a slacktivist.

It’s amazing how often people agree on what’s right.

Activists need slacktivists. Nowadays, slacktivists are the social creatures who make important issues visible to the general public by writing e-mails about them, by talking about them on Facebook, by tweeting and retweeting about them, by Digging them and posting about them on Reddit.

They’re the ones who join coalitions to make airlines treat their customers better. They sign online petitions to force regulatory bodies to act on the behalf of the public. They put cartoon characters in their Facebook profile pictures to protest child abuse, netting thousands of dollars for child abuse charities in the process (not to mention having fun).

And who make the best slacktivists in this information-saturated world? Batshite ones. The ones who stand out.

So the next time you go online to talk about an issue that concerns you, don’t let Malcolm Gladwell or anyone else tell you you’re wasting your time. Instead, crack open a beer, crack open your laptop, and start shooting the digital shit.

What are some of your slacktivism stories?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Raven Warren permalink
    09/06/2011 8:58 AM

    This needed to be written :) Being a slactivist is far more productive than doing nothing. Glad I know that term now. Thanks!

    Remember when I posted about the Slutwalk online and that guy got mad at me for seeking attention and trying to be a part of some “revolution ” on FB?

  2. 09/07/2011 12:59 PM

    I do remember! That’s just it–sometimes people seem to think you either need to be a professional activist/revolutionary or just not participate at all. But the truth is, it’s okay to participate only a little bit. In fact, it’s beneficial to a given cause.

  3. 03/09/2012 3:16 PM

    excellent article

  4. raeme67 permalink
    04/26/2013 7:32 PM

    Interesting. You always impress me with your writing.

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