What is internet activism? What is slacktivism? Can we really change the world with the use of a symbol?
These are questions that I will answer and elaborate on in this blog post, along with some powerful examples of digital activism and my involvement in it.
Internet Activism & Slacktivism
Whether it’s raising awareness or calling people to action, the internet has played a significant role in connecting the world with a common goal of change. In her article on the activist functions of technology, Mary Joyce lists some of the actions internet activism incorporates:
“Signing an e-petition, donating online, changing your Facebook status message or avatar image to promote a cause, emailing your Congressman, carrying out a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.”
In his 2012 essay, Berin Szoka expressed his view that internet activism via social networks is effective. Szoka used the examples of bringing down dictators in the Arab world, stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and electing Barack Obama, as evidence of the important roles played by internet activists. If internet activism can truly do all this, then why has it been derogatorily coined “slacktivism”?
My good friend Wikipedia defines slacktivism as, “…the act of showing support for a cause but only truly being beneficial to the egos of people participating in this so-called activism.”
I tend to disagree. It is true that actively going out into the world to fight for what you believe in, and posting about it on Facebook are two very different things. However, I also believe that the “slacktivist” label is unwarranted. As Evan Bailyn says in his article on the difference between activism and slacktivism, the word implies that slacktivists are lazy and that their actions are not particularly helpful. Bailyn goes on to ask, “…But is posting online about an important issue really “slacking”? If so, what would doing nothing be?”
Sabina Khan-Ibarra specifically looks at the use of hashtags in her article on social media and hashtag activism. She affirms that the organisation, creation, and support of hashtag campaigns allow people from all over the globe to get involved with important conversations. Hashtags have the ability to bring attention to and mobilise a large population through the high number of mentions that they gain. It is these mentions that bring hashtag campaigns attention worldwide, and allow people to speak out for what they believe in. The desire to speak out through the use of hashtags cannot be dismissed as slacktivism. In fact, it is a new and powerful type of activism, all the more so because it combines the efforts of millions of people.
Let’s take a look at some examples of this so called ‘slacktivism’, and witness just how powerful hashtags can be.
Before murdering six people on Friday 23rd May 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger posted a video rant on YouTube in which he said he would “slaughter every spoiled, stuck-up blonde” in a sorority house because they had rejected him. Within hours, the hashtag #YesAllWomen began trending on Twitter, as women world-wide shared their experiences of harassment, abuse and sexual assault. According to Topsy, the social search and analytics company, the hashtag had been used more than 500,000 times by that Sunday afternoon.
From Elliott Rodger’s autobiographical “manifesto”, the following sentiments were shared:
“The ultimate evil behind sexuality is the human female.”
“…women’s rejection of me was a declaration of war.”
“Women are like a plague. They don’t deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order [to] prevent future generations from falling into degeneracy. Women are vicious, evil, barbaric animals, and they need to be treated as such.”
Rodger’s extreme sense of male sexual entitlement resonated widely with women, with writer Annie Cardi and her friend kicking off the start of #YesAllWomen:
Rodger’s comments inspired an online conversation around the #YesAllWomen hashtag, criticising the way society teaches men to feel entitled to women at the expense of their health, safety and, in Rodger’s case, lives. Here is a sampling of some of the tweets that followed:
An animated heatmap of the #YesAllWomen hashtag was created, portraying how it progressed from its initial creation on May 24 and spread throughout the weekend. The hashtag had international awareness, with most of the tweets originating from the U.S. and U.K., but activity was seen in many other countries, including Pakistan, Indonesia and Qatar.
The New Yorker journalist, Sasha Weiss, expresses that, “there is something about the fact that Twitter is primarily designed for speech—for short, strong, declarative utterance—that makes it an especially powerful vehicle for activism, a place of liberation.” This statement agrees with my view that hashtags and slacktivism are not to be taken lightly.
A related movement called #HeForShe was sparked by British actress and Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, Emma Watson. In her speech at the United Nations HQ in September 2014, Watson spoke of the launch of her global campaign ‘HeForShe’, which called on men and women to work together towards a fairer society where males and females are treated as equals. “Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too,” she said. Watson then took to Twitter to ask the male population to join her:
The hashtag went viral when many famous men began to post selfies, pledging their support for the #HeForShe movement:
#HeForShe took social media by storm. By October 2014, the #HeForShe hashtag had reached 1.2 billions unique Twitter users. Emma Watson’s speech has been viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube, HeForShe’s Instagram reaching 59 thousand followers, and the HeForShe Facebook page accumulating 371 thousand followers.
The #HeForShe movement, like #YesAllWomen, has given voice to men and women globally to express their thoughts, dreams, and desires for a world in which everyone, regardless of gender, is treated with equality and respect.
Unfortunately, I was not an active Twitter user during the time of #YesAllWomen and #HeForShe, so I did not get the chance to add my voice to the movement. However, I have been, and continue to be, an active member of other movements.
My Role in Activism
During my time at high school, I was a member of Vision Generation, or VGen, which is the youth arm of World Vision. My high school’s VGen group would organise events and movements through Facebook and Twitter, and we would invite our friends to join us in an attempt to gain traction and attention for our causes. VGen’s state leader at the time, Jasmine Mikschi, realised the potential social media had to increase VGen’s online presence, stating, “[social media] is a great way to build excitement and energy especially for young people as we are all interconnected through social media and by everyone getting excited it creates a momentum and ripple effect.” Mikschi was correct, and the majority of the time we were very successful, at one point making the news for our participation in a silent mime protest for women and children’s health:
Some other movements that my high school’s VGen group participated in included:
Although I am no longer a member of Vision Generation, their social media presence has continued to grow stronger over the years, with #SaveAustralianAid and #StopChildMarriage as some of their most popular campaigns on social media at the moment.
Unfortunately, since I’ve left high school, I no longer participate in movements like I used to. My involvement in movements has dwindled from actively getting out there and participating, to clicking links in emails to sign petitions for Avaaz and Change.org. While signing online petitions certainly isn’t a bad thing, it is certainly a form of “slacktivism”. However, until I once again have the time and motivation to go out into the world and participate once more, being a “slacktivist” is certainly better than being nothing at all.
What are your opinions on the matter, dear readers? Do you believe “slacktivism” is a negative approach to movements? Have you participated in any internet activism yourselves? Please leave a reply below and let me know your thoughts!