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In Defense of Slacktivism

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“Times they are a changin,” sang Bob Dylan, commemorating the social and political upheaval of the 1960s. The lyrics still hold true in today’s political climate, particularly as it relates to the emerging forms of political strategy and mobilization that have grown out of the Internet Era.

A flourishing constituent of people are becoming politically involved, but this involvement diverges from traditional conceptions of activism (think: protests, sit-ins, and rallies). Slacktivism, a portmanteau of slacker and activism, is the new normal, stirring debate regarding its impact and relevancy. This new model of action takes the form of online clicks, facebook likes, and media sharing around political causes. While some renounce slacktivism as millennials’ cheap attempt at political action, others are lauding the new form of involvement as a modern answer to old-school mobilization.

To give context, I moonlight as a political organizer for a group in New York City, and I believe that media is a critical way of getting people informed and involved in our actions. Particularly in the hustle of the Big Apple, word-of-mouth, and one-on-one conversations only go so far. While I always prefer a personal connection to the nebula of the digital sphere, I guarantee on-the-ground mobilizing wouldn’t happen without the support of social media channels like facebook, vimeo, twitter, and tumblr.

So, what are the effects of slacktivism? Slacktivists help movements trend, which is good for organizers. Simply put, the more people who know about a cause, the more impact is possible. Below, a look at the positive impacts of slacktivism!

1.) A network of digital canvassers:

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First and foremost, slacktivism turns individuals into canvassers. Maybe the network of people involved in promoting a cause is looser, but it’s also bigger. And the personal connection isn’t lost – people listen to their friends, even if its over the internet. Think about it. When you post something to your facebook feed, you’re putting information out to people who most likely respect and trust your opinion. By sharing new information, the possibility of personal connection is still there, even if the form is a bit more ill-defined than on-the-ground organizing.

2.) Expanded reach:

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When we share content, petitions, and other political actions with our friends, the messaging is often forwarded to others outside of our friend-circles. Just like building ground-swell on a grassroots community level, the internet provides the platform for actions to go viral– fast. Slacktivism allows for people to share information, and with more people sharing, more potential is there is for expanded reach.

3.) Slacktivism acting as a catalyst for on-the-ground mobilizing:

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Everyone starts somewhere. Whether it’s a conversation in a classroom or over a Reddit discussion board, people’s online vigor for causes can translate into IRL (a.k.a.: in real life) organizing. Becoming involved in a political action from the safety of a screen allows people to get acclimated to political causes at their own speed.

4.) Don’t fear change:

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Activism has evolved throughout history, and dismissing new trends of connecting and mobilizing ignore this rich legacy. Just as economic boycotts, the creation of labor unions, and consciousness raising sessions at one time were new tactics for organizers at one time, slacktivism is a new way for political mobilization to evolve. Ultimately, change comes from aggigation, disruption, and knowledge, and the internet can be a way for people to innovate traditional organizing tractis.

Social media is reinventing social activism. The traditional relationship between popular will and political authority is being rethought, and it is now easier than ever for the powerless to collaborate and give voice to their issues. Simply put, slacktivism is a form of organizing that favors weak-ties over the strong-tie connections. Social media is a way for people to organize and connect loosely around shared interests.

As opposed to more traditional mobilization that favors disruption and protests, slacktivism allows a low-stack investment for some of the most pressing issues of our times. But there is impact in this form of mobilization. Similarly to having a team of canvassers getting signatures by connecting with people on the street, social media allows people to quickly sign their name to causes that matter to them.

Dismissing the new ways in which the internet can foster people’s interest in activism ignores the potential of digital force. While building physical mass and causing disruption is a sure-fire-way to elicit change, Slacktivism opens up unlimited possibilities. As an organizer, I believe it’s important to think critically, use imagination, and also tap into cultural zeitgeists. The internet is arguably the biggest innovation in human history, and as the need for cultural and social change continues to impact our world, it’s important to understand and capitalize on the limitless resources of cyberspace.


Kathleen Ebbitt