The first time I had ever heard of slacktivism was back in 2013, at the centre of my university campus, as I ran into my 3rd year media studies friend, Scott.
Scott was active on campus and was a part of what felt like all the clubs. From being a floor manager of one of the university residences to being active in the LGBTQIA2S+* community, to participating in inclusion efforts within the student experience, Scott was a friend and leader. On our campus, he truly embodied what it meant to be both an ally for communities outside of his while being an activist for the ones he belonged to.
...Which is why when I ran into him in the middle of winter, standing outside in the middle of campus with picket signs, depicting photos of people holding picket signs… I was really confused.
“I’m trying to make a point, Jenny. You know, about slacktivism. People who think they’re doing something because they’re doing something but they’re not actually doing anything at all.”
Ahh. Slacktivism* — or clicktivism as otherwise known.
Nearly a decade later, and some days it feels like not much has changed since that conversation with Scott.
Because in an age where infographics breaking down “what is white privilege” are amongst the highest shared, and racialized and marginalized activists who show up on social media are now starting to break well past the minimum 10K to swipe up on their social media accounts…
It can still sometimes feel like change starts and ends on social media.
And that’s what the studies did suggest, at one point back in 2013.
Because while I was awkwardly going through my journey of unlearning my own internalization, slacktivism in 2013 looked more like changing a profile filter on Facebook, stating that 1 like = 1 prayer, and liking a Facebook page or following an organization on Twitter.
New research, however, published in the academic journal, ‘Science,’ in 2020 suggests that “even low-effort “clicktivism” is politically consequential and contributes to offline participation.” While early research back in 2013 seemed to see little to no results in slacktivism, a decade of research and changemakers disrupting the online space has now proven otherwise.
So what does this actually mean?
And why does it really matter?
For starters, it means that the sharing of posts, ideas, graphics, and conversations have truly helped in shifting the beliefs of hundreds of thousands of people over the last 10 years in their belief systems, and therefore how they operate within the world.
In fact, those who engage in slacktivism (although low effort, and low risk), are more likely to purchase products from companies that support their new views and beliefs, sign petitions that can actually result in policy change, and make donations towards organizations that are doing the grassroots organizing and work.
Sounds great right?
Except for when it isn’t.
Because just because someone partakes in online activism, doesn’t actually mean they’re actually risking or contributing anything to change things at a systematic level: and it can be HARD to tell the difference between who is and isn't doing the work when all of it can look the same online.
So how do you tell if you’re a slacktivist?
If you find that you...
- Share on social media the infographics that talk about the experiences of racialized and otherwise marginalized communities… and… leave it at that
- Make one time, marginal contributions to organizations on impulse… without really being sure what they do or who’s getting paid
- Follow a bunch of creators when you see “diverse” accounts being recommended… but never actually see them in your feed or follow up to check in on what they might be sharing
- And have every intention of purchasing from small and marginalized brands and business owners, but end up using big companies and people who already have access to a lot of privilege, simply out of convenience for you
...then chances are, while your actions might feel like it's moving the needle forward, it very well might be doing nothing little to nothing in creating systemic, institutional, and societal change.
So… I ask you now:
Are you a slacktivist?
And if you are: how can you shift to truly engage in civic action that creates a ripple effect within the communities, systems, and organizations that you belong to?
These aren’t meant to be easy questions.
But change happens when we push the movements beyond just performative slacktivism.
And I want us to be in that space together: as organizers. Leaders. Entrepreneurs. Storytellers: all leading and creating actual, and tangible change.
Because almost 10 years later, and I really want to believe that we're doing so much more.
P.S. Actively trying to be more than just a slacktivist? Hit reply with 'yes please' and I'll send you my full list of resources to help, grassroots local organizations you can contribute monthly to, and ways to actively create change and impact far beyond social media.