The Problem with ‘Slacktivism’

A few months ago, I was sitting in the airport, during one of my many unwanted but necessary travels to Baltimore from the UK (no offence to my B-more peeps, but its not exactly tourist destination). At the time, I was feeling a sense of defeat about life in general. Despite being considered an idealist by most, my unrelenting optimism had begun to flail in the wake of overwhelming personal issues and daily reminders of Jamaica’s counter-intuitive approach to crime via newspapers and social media.

In an attempt to cheer myself up, I popped into a fancy restaurant where the bartender looked at me and immediately handed me a glass of wine. She saw it. I had lost my motivation or as one of my girlfriends says, ‘I had lost my mojo’. Little did I know that during the several drinks I had at said fancy restaurant, my ‘mojo’ would be returned to me.

Somewhere between my *th glass of wine and fried goat’s cheese, I struck up what would turn out to be a 5 hour life changing conversation with Louis, a young guy from New Orleans who works to improve the computer literacy of inner-city kids in Atlanta. During the multitude of topics we discussed such as race relations, poverty and offenders’ rights, Louis introduced me to the term ‘slacktivism’. Basically, slacktivists are people who feign concern for social issues. Slacktivists extend minimal personal effort not because they believe they are making a difference, but for their own personal satisfaction instead. It makes people feel better when they post their ALS ice bucket challenge video. Great. But how many people do follow up research on what ALS is (http://www.alsa.org/donate/) or include information on ALS in their videos? How many people will continue to support the efforts of ALS organizations after the ‘fad’ of the ice bucket challenge has been replaced by some other short-lived social media campaign that is completely unrelated to the cause itself? It’s easy to pour a bucket of water over your head, but it isn’t easy to go visit with patients suffering from ALS in your local hospitals or donate your holiday funds to a patient who needs surgery more than you need retail therapy in Miami.

  
Image credit - slideshare.net
Image credit – slideshare.net

Louis and I sat there for hours bashing these self-involved social media activists who post about a cause because they think it makes them look and feel like better people.But as I said goodbye and headed towards my gate, I stepped out of my self righteousness (only for a second lol) and thought about the last time I had made some contribution to a cause. Had I become a slacktivist? I mean sure, I am currently studying in the field of human rights with the hopes of having an impact, but I couldn’t pretend that, on some level, that wasn’t a self-serving activity. What was I doing besides posting ‘Bring back our girls’ on Facebook and Instagram? It had been almost 3 years since I volunteered for Circles of Support and Accountability (http://www.circles-uk.org.uk) and although I advocate what I believe regularly through writing, presentations and research, I realized that there was so much more I could be doing….things that were maybe outside of my comfort zone, probably more costly and definitely more time consuming.

I thought about the days that I would be excited for a chance to help prisoners through IJCHR (my first real internship) or how much I anticipated donating toys and playing with orphaned and abused children on the anniversary of my grandfather’s birthday. Yes, these activities made me feel good about myself, but I didn’t get that reward without sacrifice. Giving up my time and my toys made me feel good because I knew others could recognise the effort behind it. I was making a personal difference to another individual.

So here’s the thing. I appreciate what these awareness campaigns try to do. And on some level, they work. But for me, it’s just not enough. We have to recognise that in order to make a difference we have to make sacrifices. All of us. And it’s not a sacrifice if it isn’t inconvenient. There are so many things that each of us as individuals can do to ‘become the change we wish to see’. Whatever the cause is, step outside of your comfort zone and make a difference, even if it’s just to one other person. Volunteer at your local hospital. Organise a letter-writing campaign, make annual donations, coordinate a peaceful protest. Shit, coordinate a violent protest (not my personal approach, but everyone has their thing). My point is, don’t just sit on the sidelines. Become passionate about something. Because a life without passion. Well I’m not interested.

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Cynthia Thomas
6 years ago

really deep…food for thought…got me thinking… slacktivism…

Cynthia Thomas
5 years ago

really deep…food for thought…got me thinking… slacktivism…