The Invisible Activist: Slactivist

“I lost my eye in a student protest five days back, about which I doubt if our group wins.” That’s what an activist would say, right?

Here are words that capture the angst of a slacktivist. “I just sprained my clicking finger joining the Facebook Protest Group.”

Whoa! So much for all the criticism that comes ready and flying smack in the face of a slacktivist!

Slacktivism, Yes, a complex term but with not too complex a consequence if we look close. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘slacktivism’ as the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterised as involving very little effort or commitment.

Slacktivism, quite practically, becomes offensive and effortless for critics who perceive that only classic social movement such as rallies and demonstrations can represent the effective model for collectively pressing for change.  This feeling is based on the argument that ‘real’ protest happens on a street. Putting one’s mouth and head in the line, holding posters and shouting has been, for decades, viewed as the only way to raise voice for or against any issue.

But is arm-chair activism all bad indeed? Allow me to pour my support for the other side for a change.

Clicking is better than Sleeping

Isn’s doing something – any tiny, winy bit- better than not being there at all?

Slacktivism not only includes supporting a cause online but also means a smart way for participating. These activities incur a minimal cost to participants – think, how much can one click on Facebook or retweet on Twitter can be a burden? A slacktivist can feel that he or she has helped to support the cause without budging from that cushion and coffee-cup. While a percentage of the purchase price of a T-shirt or piece of jewellery may go to support program activities, for the most part, these activities that support for a cause require minimal cost. Also, the activist gets something tangible in return rather than donating the full amount to the cause. Slacktivists don’t have to spend an entire Saturday doing hard labor to build a home or sacrifice a portion of their monthly entertainment budget towards a cause. They don’t even have to move from behind the screens of their electronic devices or get beaten for the protests they pick.

It is new , smart and intelligent after all to see how a 22 year-old Muslim, mother of three, participated in slacktivism to raise her voice under her burkha when she wanted to vent her ire against the triple-talaq system. Tough clouds hung over the Muslim women under this Islamic divorce system (which legally allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife by stating the word talaq three times in oral, written, or more recently, electronic form). To protest against the same, many women and men came on the streets. But some preferred to work smart by taking up slacktivism. This not only kept the women safe but also served as a means of motivation, through their fierce write ups and online-petitions.

Campaigns targeting slacktivists can be, often, seen based on the logic that increased awareness of a cause is in itself a worthy reason to pursue them. That explains the numerous victories gained by online campaign-crusaders like Avaaz.org. Simply nudging a supporter to “Please retweet” a Twitter post or ‘sign’ to a campaign can mean a lot of weight in the overall pressure that one wants to wield against a wrong-doer.

Also, the more attention a cause receives, the more likely public officials are to pay attention to a cause, and thus, the more tangible benefits will be gained (like legislation, a policy change, or money allocated to help victims of a crisis). This translates into a greater likelihood of increased participant engagement, including providing forms of financial support.

In the last few days when I was looking around and asking people their views on ‘One Click Activism’; I came across a fellow mate who wasn’t a slacktivist or an activist but an observer who said, “I am not against slacktivism or activism. I support the working of both simultaneously – anything which boosts up a protest. Physical presence is also needed to bring the work of slacktivism into consideration.”

In 1891 in Victoria, suffragettes organised the second-largest petition to usher in the right of women to vote. They stood in the freezing rain and sweltering heat to collect signatures (activism) and today, through social media, online petitions the same can be done via millions of signatures (slacktivism).

Let it snowball

From enormous pollution caused by coal impacting air and water pollution, to worker deaths due to employer-exploitation to climate change issues, we have been witnessing the rise of slactivism a lot.

Like the campaign that Greenpeace ran -almost entirely on Facebook, in 2011, where it targeted the social networking giant who had built massive data servers that were powered by coal. On Earth Day 2011, it called out Facebook to unfriend coal. After 20 months of mobilising, agitating and negotiating to green Facebook, the Internet giant announced its goal to run on clean, renewable energy. It was quite a momentous status-update – a lot of the credit went to thumb-activists.

Another example is the growing interest in animal issues. “Animal issues are consistently among the most popular, both in terms of people coming to Change.org to sign campaign and to start campaign.” As stated by Stephanie Feldstein of Change.org, which has quickly become one of the most influential tools for online activism. They have picked up causes around animal slaughter by hunters and have moved strongly. Example- an online petition filed against Urban Outfitters. After the petition won, the company made an agreement with PETA for ceasing sales in their stores and turned a Fur-Free Retailer, Designer and Brands on the Humane Society of the United States.

Of course, slactivism needs someone who can stand in the trenches too. This is a complimentary force and cannot be relied upon to work on its own. But for the time-starved, screen-tied and right-swipe/left-swipe-fast generation of today, this is clearly a plausible and pragmatic way of identifying with and adding weight to causes.

With 15,000 environment causes on Facebook that just need recognition, we are just a few taps away from a world where carrying a smartphone would not make us more numb and dumb. But hopefully, quite the contrary.

By Hridaya Khatri

 

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