What does activism mean to you? It is being part of a welfare organisation or is it being part of a protest or rally? Is it signing a Change.org petition that lands in your email, hitting the like button on an ‘image with a cause’ on Instagram or is it writing a 500-word Facebook post about how you were treated unfairly by a public servant?
Activism, in the digital age, has a lazier and more passive-aggressive brother called ‘Slacktivism’ and for many millennials, it’s hard to tell one from the other. They love to feel like a part of something bigger by something as simple as hitting the ‘Share’ button, while adults love to debate how slacktivism is the death of real calls for justice and equality. Let’s try and figure out who is right.
#Good: Support is just a click away
The horrific Kathua and Unnao rape case brought to light the minor rape culture in India. While people protests in J&K did wonders to create awareness, it was thousands of people, in India and globally, who were constantly – through social media – aggressively demanding change. #JusticeForAsifa soon started dominating our newsfeed. 1.6 million people signed an online petition – making it the biggest one till date. While a protest can gather thousands of people, slackivism can unite millions. Best part? Fresh opinions and viewpoints always come along. For instance, women launched a social media campaign, #IamNOTjustAnumber, stating that victims should not just be reduced to mere numbers in databases. The campaign shunned the conventional belief which does not hide the name and identity of rape victim.
This research paper proves that it’s time we rethink armchair activism. As per the research, (which is based on 2011 Occupy movement and the 2013 Gezi Park protests), online activism is a key to turn protests into social movements, proving that slacktivism is great! More re-tweets and shares, more the awareness.
#Good: It’s pocket-friendly
In 2014, a 6-year-old was sexually abused by her teacher in the school in Karnataka. Coverage on newspapers and TV news channels didn’t really help. That’s when the mother thought there was a need for change, a big one. She started an online campaign on Change.org, urging the education minister to impose strict safety measures in the school. Within 6 days there were whopping lakh signatories. Results? For the first time ever guidelines for child safety were issued for schools in the state.
Not all issues require violent protests and rallies to create awareness. Which also come with a huge cost. Sure, they do create a great impact but leave behind huge losses – loss of public property and lives. This definitely does affect the nation’s economy.
Moreover, it also offers the option for crowdfunding – a way of sourcing funds by campaigning to raise awareness and support for a project or idea. For instance, in 2014, it was because of online activism, Monica More (who lost both her arms in a Mumbai train accident) received funding for a German-made myoelectrically controlled arms. Further, it also brought up the issue of multiple railway accidents happening in Mumbai and demanded change in medical facilities at the railway stations. The campaign was inexpensive and effective.
So Slactivism not only saves money but can also bring in money for a cause.
#Bad – Maybe it’s your FOMO
We all remember the #NoShaveNovember. And many started following it too, not even knowing the real reason behind the movement. The hashtag – which was interpreted as some fashion trend was actually to raise awareness for cancer. This is the biggest drawback of slacktivism. It attracts people who have a serious fear of missing out. FOMO is real and it’s the psychological feeling of being left out of important events.
So much so that you might end up supporting a cause that you don’t really believe in. Take, for example, the students against ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad) campaign. It was started to protest against ABVP’s ill-treatment of JNU students. While it received huge momentum and millions of supporters online- students or not, it soon fell flat on its face. The government didn’t respond and most supporters had no clue of the actual events. Never having been in contact with the ABVP, people supported the campaign out of FOMO. The psychology is simple. All my friends are doing it, so will I. And that is one of the banes of Slactivism – misguided support.
#Bad: Could be a cry for publicity
What started off as an attempt to celebrate the girl child quickly became just a political story for media consumption when television star Shruti Seth spoke against the PM Modi’s #SelfieWithDaughter campaign. The actress was attacked with sexist comments by Modi’s fans. Another campaign, ‘SwatchhBharatAbhiyan’ that was started to keep India clean quickly turned into a ‘photo’ opportunity to make the patriotic citizen feel good.
But the campaign failed to address the underlying issue of lack of amenities, capital and respect faced by the real cleaning heroes of our country. It also became ground for celebrities to gather good publicity. Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt, widely known for their criminal acts, after being nominated by the PM went with their crew to clean up the streets of Kalyan village. People like Virat Kohli and Shilpa Shetty also picked up the broom in their respective areas. To no benefit of course. Mumbai is still one of the dirtiest cities in the country after the showy support of Bollywood.
#Bad: No Real Impact
In 2014, a lawyer started #bringbackourgirls a week after 276 schoolgirls from a remote town in Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram. It became the most popular online campaign in Africa, the hashtag was shared 4 million times and personalities like Kim Kardashian, Chris Brown, Michelle Obama etc. endorsing the cause. But soon, it just became an example of the limited influence of online protests. 2 years after the campaign, 219 of the 276 girls were still missing.
While hashtags, online petitions and ‘liking’ images have become a way to show our concern for social issues, it also gives us the inner satisfaction of being a part of the movement. But the harsh reality is that it doesn’t help achieve anything tangible and is not backed by real-life actions. As per critiques, while activists take to the streets and take action, slacktivists just sit around and push buttons.
As per a report, out of the 48,000 petitions posted on Change.Org in France in 2012, fewer than 60 went viral. Even of the ones which do go viral, do not receive the required impact. ‘Save Darfur’, a social media campaign on Facebook was to raise awareness about atrocities in Sudan. Despite, a whopping one million people signed up, less than 3000 donated for the cause. This proves that people are active on social media in terms of creating awareness but are passive when it comes to taking real action.
To conclude, Slacktivism has been boon to activism in many ways, in its dorky, global approach to gathering solidarity. And while it has its benefit, it falls short of substantial results. At the end of the day, it only remains as a feel-good tool, nothing more, and nothing better. It can’t change our world the way we want it to.