The Myth of Slacktivism

A ‘slacktivist’ is someone who chooses to do all or most of their activist work through online mediums such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and so on. These people are often disregarded as lesser and lazy activists when compared to those who are able to do activism work offline. For example, UrbanDictionary.com defines slacktivism as, “The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem”. The example given is people signing online petitions as opposed to getting involved in neighborhood watches or other offline activities. The concept of ‘slacktivism’ and that people who focus their ideas online are ‘slacktivists’ is extremely problematic and downplays the importance and reach of online activism.

The idea of slacktivism is rooted in ableism. Not everyone has the ability to mentally or physically engage in activism offline. For example, someone who has to deal with social anxiety may not be able to attend marches or large gatherings. Someone who suffers from a pain disorder may not be able to walk in marches or stand for long periods of time. Implying that people who participate in online activism are inherently lazy, ignores the fact that some of these people may not be able to physically attend activist events, no matter how much they want to. These people do important work in the ways they can, such as online work that is so quickly discredited without thinking about the reasons someone may not be able to attend or do offline work.

The idea of slackitvism is also classist. I live in an area with no public transportation. There is no way for me to attend many meetings, marches, and so one without a ride. The idea that people who participate in online activism have the means to travel or to take time off of work in order to participate in offline work is classist. For example, people may not be able to take off work in order to attend offline events and thus may spend valuable and limited free time doing online work. For people in areas with limited resources, the closest areas that have a large enough resource pool may be hours away. These people may not have the resources in order to set up their own grassroots organizations or the money and time to travel and thus, resort to online activism in order to be a part of events and causes they feel are important to them.

 

Offline activism is potentially dangerous. Participating in events puts certain populations at risk. For some, simply stepping outside of the house is a potentially endangering endeavor, let alone protesting, marching, or calling attention to oneself. Women who participate in marches to end rape culture are often catcalled, have slurs hurled at them, and risk threats of rape and violence. Queer people attending pride events run the risk of queerphobic attacks, slurs, verbal harassment, and potential violence. If someone is not out and they are discovered to be involved in queer events, they may face loss of job, house, family, and more. This is not just from opposition either. People face potential danger from police and military for protesting in offline spaces.

Online activism allows people to connect across station and national borders. Along with the previously mentioned issues, online activism allows people to engage and support causes in places that are distant from them, even as far as other continents. I am able to contact not only my own state representatives, but those in other states about issues. I am allowed to share petitions and my thoughts and support across the entire world, via Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media. Not only that, it allows people to be able to educate themselves around problems across peoples and across countries.

Online activism allows for support/reach that offline activism cannot provide. Online activism allows people to connect in support in larger numbers than any offline activism can dream of. Thousands upon thousands of people can support multiple causes as well, something that is not possible when attending simple offline events. As a writer, my work can reach thousands of people through an online medium that it cannot reach from a physical newspaper or zine. My online work has the potential to influence and educate people in many more ways than it can offline. Take this piece for example. It also allows people to create safe spaces that can allow and remove people with minimal involvement with minimal risk of physical harm. People can also remain anonymous or relatively stealth for their own safety.

Online activism allows for the ability to choose to engage, disengage, and so on. Through online mediums, people can choose which causes and when to take them up at their own time. They are not restricted by a single event, time or place. A person who works days is able to engage during the wee hours of the morning. Someone who is at work is able to discuss and support on their breaks. A single mother who is juggling a family and a job is able to hop on and off whatever activism she is doing in order to tend to her family or her job. Online mediums allow for people to also take care of their own mental health, disengaging when situations become too much for them to handle and allowing others to step up for them. It allows for amplified voices and numbers, as well as work to be done around the clock that offline activism simply cannot do.

Online activism is not age specific. People of all ages can become active in online activism. Students can become involved in schools across the nation as well as their own. People under the age of 18 can become socially aware and start online as a safe space, away from the potential threat of classmates and staff for their views. As previously mentioned, online activism can create a safe space for people who live in hostile environments or in environments where they cannot be open about certain aspects of their lives or identities. It also allows for them to explore which causes they wish to support and which ones will be inclusive of them. They can be active in activist spaces online while juggling school and potentially jobs as well as social lives. Online activism allows for continued education of our youths while providing them inclusive support and attendance that they may not be able to get due to obligations offline with having to attend school during rallies or marches, or due to age restrictions, travel restrictions, or safety.

Online activism is extremely important when making activism not only accessible to all people, but it has the power to influence just as offline activism does. The internet is being more and more ingrained in the daily lives of people as well as how people conduct not only business, but reach other for support and to spread the news of problems, issues, and other activities. There is no such thing as slacktivism or a slacktivist. Even a simple act as clicking share provides important education and exposure for causes or societal problems.

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4 thoughts on “The Myth of Slacktivism”

  1. Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for writing this.

    One minor thing I want to point out is that online activism isn’t necessarily safer than in-person activism, especially for women and members of other marginalized groups–just look at all the death threats, rape threats, etc. that activists like Anita Sarkeesian have had to deal with. I’m a fat activist, and I’ve known other FA bloggers who have dealt with so much harassment that they became suicidal. (I haven’t had to deal with it myself, through some combination of sheer luck and being fairly low-profile.) The risk can be lessened to a certain extent by not using one’s real name online, but still, online spaces are not guaranteed to be mentally or physically safe.

    Other than that, I agree completely with your list of reasons why people might not be able to take part in in-person activism, and why online activism makes a difference in its own way. I get so frustrated when people call online activists “slacktivists,” and I really appreciate you pushing back against that stereotype!

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