Slacktivism

This week's Belfast Telegraph article

It's called “Slacktivism”: a mix of Activism and Slacker describing how some people support a cause by doing no more than signing an online petition, or joining a Facebook group or taking part in a Twitter-storm. 

Slacktivism is a pejorative term, but the motivation behind a person’s engagement in an issue can be positive.  Most of us are not in a position to change public perception or opinion even if we had the time and resources, even the inclination to put our boots on and take to the streets. Following the Iranian elections in June supporters of the Iranian opposition did take to the streets in protest.  Some Twitter users outside Iran added a green tinge to their profile photo to show support to the protesters. Some even changed their profile location to Tehran believing that this would hinder the Iranian authorities.  We were told Iranians were using Twitter to arrange protests, the government was trying to monitor them and it was though that the more people on the platform with a false Tehran location the harder it would be to track the real organisers.  Who knows whether it did or not.

In October newsrooms were prevented from reporting information about Trafigura by threat of severe legal action (http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/commons-protest-as-trafigura-gag-lifted-14530143.html).  It was a Twitter-storm that brought the story into the public domain showing the “super-injunction” to be impotent.  While some registered outrage others became online detectives digging up the information that the public was being prevented from knowing.  This was not slacktivism, this was mass collaboration that confounded the legal status quo. But every hash-tag helped.

Signing up to a Facebook page in protest or support doesn’t take much effort.  People have been hoodwinked.  As a part of a psychological experiment, Anders Colding-Jørgensen created a Facebook protest group that went from 125 to 27,500 members in two weeks. The cause, “Save the Stork Fountain” was a totally fictitious protest against the demolition of a famous Danish fountain.  He wanted to understand if political campaigns like that could work.  His conclusion was that they don’t. People sign-up to the headline not the issue.

Some Twitter and Facebook campaigns might be superficial and transient but Slactivism is surely better than apathy. It is us Slackers 40th birthday present to the Internet.

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