The age of 'slacktivism' - are we doing enough?
Illustration by Gabriella Nero Activism is something we’re all familiar with. I’m sure a lot of us have positive connotations with the word. It suggests we have honourable intentions, we demonstrate noble actions and we are good people if we are activists. The word is defined as ‘the activity of working to achieve political or social change, especially as a member of an organisation with particular aims.’ Many of us at some point in our lives have felt like we’ve participated in activism, whether by posting on Instagram that you’re attending a protest for Women’s Rights, or documenting your outrage at systemic racism in a tweet. If this is the extent of your activism, what would you say if I suggested these actions are examples of ‘slacktivism’? 

The dictionary definition for slacktivism is ‘working to achieve political or social change by using the internet to carry out actions that are thought to require little effort or time.’ Coined in 1995, the term slacktivism has actually been around for a while — it’s not something that’s fresh out the social media age.

Slacktivism, or being a ‘slactivist’ rather than an activist, has derogatory and negative associations. Barbara Mikkelson referred to it as “the desire people have to do something good without getting out of a chair”. This assessment ties in nicely to the idea of ‘requir[ing] little effort or time’, as navigating and posting on social media is as easy as breathing for many of us. As you’ve probably figured out, social media has a big role to play in the realm of slacktivism. It has become a breeding ground for competition between who’s the most socially and culturally aware and who’s the most valuably active. I’m sure you’ve fallen victim to a chain-mail message or a ‘share this and see who comments’ post many times with your experience on social media platforms— this is almost the norm alongside mundane life updates and photographs of puppies and food. 

Social media activism has been rife in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in the US. Everyone has been talking about it—and rightly so—as the cause deserves public awareness and representation. Thankfully, there have been thousands of posts that have been extremely informative, whether through providing information about petitions and donation sites, or organisation of protests and safety training for those that are being injured during this plight. Throughout the course of this social media solidarity, one particular trend was brought to my attention and it didn’t sit well with me. This trend was the #blackouttuesday. 

#blackouttuesday was initially created as a way to silence mundane and irrelevant social media posts, allowing the voices of black and people of colour not only to be heard but amplified. However, it began to spiral quite quickly into a litany of slacktivism which led to its popularity being potentially detrimental to the Black Lives Matter movement and its cause. Thousands participated in this trend, which was initially positive, but when used alongside the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, it blocked valuable information about petitions that still needed signatures and donation resources that still needed money from view. These valuable resources were being silenced by a mass of blank, black boxes. Kenidra Woods, a mental health advocate and Black Lives Matter activist, expressed her concern about this happening on Twitter: ‘We know that it’s no intent to harm but to be frank, this essentially does harm the message.’

Within the 24 hour window of #blackouttuesday, there were more blank posts on Instagram with this hashtag than signatures on the petition for the correct degree of murder to be given to the officer responsible for George Floyd’s death. This demonstrates that more people thought that posting a blank square on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook meant that they had ‘done their bit’ in assisting the Black Lives Matter movement and charities like Justice for George Floyd. This is why slacktivism is so detrimental. 

I’m not blaming anyone for participating in the trend online, initially it was a positive idea which sadly turned into people believing they had done the most that they could. There is more to be done and more you can do. Everyone has a role to play, whether by simply sharing petitions and encouraging everyone you know to sign, or donating to charities that need support with their funding – these are much more active and valuable actions that require almost as little effort as posting a blank square with a hashtag. Do not fall into the position of being a slacktivist during this time when differences can be made. Make sure that your actions are active. Sign the petitions. Share the petitions. Donate to the charities. Share as many resources as you can. Read as much as you can. Watch as much as you can. Educate yourselves.

The encouragement I am trying to relay here does not start and end with the current Black Lives Matter movement and protests. I am encouraging you to be more active with all causes that are socially and politically unjust. We have our voices, and better yet, we have access to social media to share these voices! Reni Eddo-Lodge stated it perfectly at the end of her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

‘You don’t have to be the leader of a global movement or a household name. It can be as small scale as chipping away at the warped power relations in your workplace. It can be passing on knowledge and skills to those who wouldn’t access them otherwise. It can be creative. It can be informal. It can be your job. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re doing something.’ 

Remember that activism is about time – devote time to your cause, make that active effort and be a valuable asset to change. Be aware of the differences between activism and slacktivism, and make sure that your actions fall into the category of activism. 

Here is a useful link to lots of resources to help you be more activist: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co 

This document of antiracism resources compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein is available here: https://goodgoodgood.co/anti-racism-resources 

Here is some recommended reading to educate yourself further on the Black Lives Matter cause: 

    • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
    • Me and White Supremacy – Layla F Saad
    • White Fragility – Robin Diangelo