Why slacktivism sucks (and what you can do about it!)

Here’s the thing about slacktivism. It affords ordinarily sedentary people the ability to get warm fuzzies for “doing something” about The Problem™ without actually having to do something about the problem.

Over the last ten years I’ve seen a lot of self-righteous slacktivism perpetrated under the guise of “raising awareness” but the great bulk of it has typically been done in a very self-congratulatory fashion. Ergo, “Yay, look at me, I’m raising awareness, I’m so awesome!” Which too often has zero impact on anything real in the world — beyond the slacktivist getting to stroke his or her own ego.

If all the hours of time spent every year — by slacktivists pounding away furiously at blog posts, twitter, and facebook — were actually donated to organizations, churches, charities, and other bodies badly in need of manpower, think of how much actual progress could be made. On all sorts of things.

Of course, toiling away in the ranks — as a faceless volunteer — isn’t as sexy as slamming up an indignant blog article decrying this or that perceived evil in the world. Nobody clicks “like” every time you log time at the Red Cross or with a womens domestic violence shelter or at your local Rotary Club, or the church food drive. You won’t get re-tweeted for being a volunteer at the local community hospital. You won’t become Internet Famous for collecting used clothes and bundling them up for single moms in need. Nobody is going to “follow” you for taking a shovel and a mower over to the home of that old widow on the corner, and doing her yard work for her.

But you will be having an actual, positive impact.

So, here’s my quiet hope that the energy being dumped into slacktivism (of all sorts) can be diverted towards actually making a difference in non-internet-famous ways — that are actually impactful.

Because if you’re not willing to get anonymously dirty in the service of whatever cause it is that motivates you, maybe that’s a big sign that you need to reexamine your motivations?

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Why slacktivism sucks (and what you can do about it!)

  1. My Inner Snark Devil suspects that for many (Right, Left, I’m looking at both of you…) It’s not so much about “The Cause” or the values folks claim… It’s about the chance to be obnoxious, insulting, and or condescending towards people who don’t provide 100% worldview validation. An opportunity to indulge in base hatred while painting things up as something Noble and Just.

  2. That does seem like it, very much. Hatred in the name of a Noble Cause seems to be an eternal vice with some folks. And it helps that they grow internet muscles, similar to beer muscles: it’s easy to call names and make insults from behind the safety of a screen. 99% of those types would never have the fortitude to say the same things face to face.

  3. You wrote “So, here’s my quiet hope that the energy being dumped into slacktivism (of all sorts) can be diverted towards actually making a difference in non-internet-famous ways — that are actually impactful. Because if you’re not willing to get anonymously dirty in the service of whatever cause it is that motivates you, maybe that’s a big sign that you need to reexamine your motivations?”

    Maybe. But I think I’ve benefited a lot from a heritage of social changes which were significantly affected by the public becoming disgusted with something, or just losing faith or losing confidence. Most of them were so long ago that the Internet was not involved, but there were slacktivists in coffeehouses and softball leagues, too. E.g., the Glorious Revolution, and various political trends in England up ’til 1776 or so, and various political trends in the US after that. I’ve also suffered from a heritage of bad social changes which involved public opinion, Prohibition, e.g., so I’m not arguing that nattering around trying to influence public opinion is necessarily good. But I do argue it can be important. It’s hard to figure out what makes a difference, but trying to understand history while ignoring public opinion doesn’t seem to work very well, and trying to understand changes in public opinion without giving a role to retail penny-ante slacktivism doesn’t seem to work very well either.

    Now, quite possibly doing tangible local things is still a much better use of almost everyone’s time than arguing. I honestly don’t know, in part because it can be very hard to figure out what was effective in changing anyone’s mind. But I’m pretty sure that at least some of the retail-level proselytizers made a big difference in historical changes of opinion. (Whatever wit first remarked “When Adam delved and Eve span…”)

    Incidentally, it can also be hard to figure out how much of a difference one is making with non-proselytization work. I spent quite a lot of time coding and managing other people’s work on a free software system (SBCL) which has been useful for many people (and for the flagship product of at least one moderate-sized company) over the years, but it’s hard to quantify quite how much difference it made to the world. I was even scolded publicly by an angry programmer for a similar commercial product who claimed that it was on net harmful to the world. That is, under logic similar to that used to justify “anti-dumping” trade protectionism, the effect of letting some customers keep money that would otherwise have flowed in part to commercial programmers like him was so irresponsibly awful that it outweighed the lost customers’ uses for their saved money plus all other use of the free software (e.g. by people who need source code, or for other reasons wouldn’t have been anyone’s customers anyway, and would’ve gone without).

Comments are closed.