Retweeting a cause may not be akin to tying yourself to a tree in protest, but “slacktivism” has its merits, according to a infographic addressing the benefits and cons of online activism.
The graphic by research firm Sortable looks at how social media activism campaigns can lead to real-world change. Their research shows “slacktivists” are twice as likely to volunteer, ask for donations, and take part in an event, and four times as likely to encourage others to sign a petition or contact a politician.
Some media speculators, like Erik Kain of Forbes, wonder if the slacktivist is influential enough to become Time’s “Person of the Year,” adding more support to the movement.
In today’s world of constant connection, starting online when rallying a cause or trying to make a difference is a logical move. Sortable and other proponents of online activism suggest that just because liking a status, or signing an online petition, is done from a plush, safe setting doesn’t mean it can’t make a tangible difference.
Online activist causes range from the personal and the international, to fundraising campaigns for disease research and helping a pet find a home. Video campaign Kony 2012, though cloaked in controversy, managed to spread the word about atrocities in Africa, netting 112 million YouTube hits in six days. When U.S. lawmakers debated SOPA Internet legislation, website shutdowns and 3.9 million SOPA-related Tweets played a role in the legislation’s fall.
When the cause is dire enough for people to rally around, an online platform for the message can get attention quickly, because even though it only takes a moment to sign an online petition, those moments can add up quickly and speak with a loud voice. In India, 500,000 people signed a petition on Avaaz.org to help protest corruption, while Egyptian activists continued to use social media to spread their message after Arab Spring.
But when an online gesture is all the activism amounts to, some question the merit, especially while “real” activists are out in the streets. Those who embrace slacktivism regard the new face of activism as a social media campaign, grassroots in development and useful in its breadth. With search queries and hashtags, non-profits or cause-oriented campaigns can target the people most likely to believe in and support their mission.
The Sortable infographic offers a suggested “Top 10 Signs You Might be a Slacktivist,” ranging from donating through text messaging to changing a Facebook status in support of a cause, or buying a product because the seller will donate some of the proceeds to charity. The acts may sound trite, but they can speak volumes when added up — text messaging donations after the Haiti earthquake raised $20 million in donations for the Red Cross.
Slacktivism has a negative reputation, and undoubtedly having the word “slack” in its name probably doesn’t help, but good intentions can gain traction. As more of the world gravitates online, there’s little to suggest that helping the world shouldn’t be as well.