Slacktivism (n.): supporting a cause by sharing information about it via social media

Pro – Take the slack out of slacktivism

graphic: Dorothy Weiss

graphic: Dorothy Weiss

Slacktivism, a term formed by merging ‘slacker’ and ‘activism,’ applies to those who use social media to endorse a cause, for example by liking a page on Facebook or following an organization on Twitter. Many teens are slacktivists, reading articles and watching videos on the countless injustices in the world but doing little to change what is actually happening. While it may seem that just learning about a topic and spreading awareness is not enough, at our age slacktivism is an acceptable way of contributing to an organization for teenagers with limited resources and busy schedules.

The most direct forms of supporting an organization are through donating money and dedicating time to volunteer. However, in high school, not all students have their own money or have enough time to donate to these charities. Sure, parents may give allowances or money to spend in town, but that money belongs to our parents, not us. Thus, we should not be spending it on causes that parents may recognize as hoaxes while we remain blind to that fact. And even if we had the money to donate, we, as students, may not have the time to thoroughly investigate an organization and determine whether or not the funds are going to a good, genuine organization.

As evidenced by the recent ALS ice bucket challenge—which involved nominating friends after dumping a bucket of ice water over one’s head—by simply passing along the message from one friend to another, a cause can reach the ears of parents and celebrities. Adults, with many more years of experience in making important choices, can make a much more educated decision in determining if the cause is legitimate, and donate money accordingly. Their resources are able to make a much greater difference than a measly $5 allowance.

While just dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads seems like nothing, the thousands of people who participated and nominated friends helped spread the word about ALS, resulting in over $100 million in donations for the ALS Association this year alone according to an article by Maria Vultaggio. In the first three weeks of the challenge, when it was picking up steam, the ALS Association received $22 million in donations, over a 1,000 percent increase from the $1.9 million collected in the same timeframe the previous year according to ALS Association. While a substantial number of slacktivists who participated in the challenge probably did not donate, it is evident that they played a key role in spreading the word so that the effort could meet the ears of those who could contribute to the cause.

Slacktivists also played a key role in the KONY 2012 movement that went viral several years ago. The constant sharing of the video brought the issue to the attention of students and teachers. I remember all my classmates getting excited about the cause after my history teacher showed the video. We were all eager to help spread the word to our friends and family, the main goal of the video. It even suggested in participating in “cover the night” activities, where participants would cover windows, bulletin boards, and lampposts with the KONY 2012 logo. Although many of the viewers of the video lost interest in the cause by the time the date came around, they did make the video go viral, achieving the same goal aimed by “cover the night.”

While still requesting money, the main goal of the KONY 2012 movement was to inform people about the injustices being committed in Uganda. Many organizations have a similar goal: to spread awareness and let society know about some injustice, whether it be people suffering from a disease, poverty in a certain country, or polluted water affecting small-scale farmers. Organizations want people to know about their particular injustice to gather support from individuals who care.

Educating society and exposing young teenagers to the injustices that exist in the world allows them to understand better the perspective of others who have a difficult life. The spread of knowledge and perspectives allows society as a whole to become less ignorant, ultimately leading to a brighter future. Viral videos and movements like the ALS ice bucket challenge are the means by which these causes reach the ears of teenagers. After completing the ALS challenge, several people I knew attached interesting videos and articles about the disease to their post, educating viewers about what it was like to live with the condition. This not only spread the word, but allowed those who saw the post to learn more about ALS. Overall, slacktivism benefits society just by educating the public.

For all the promotion of social injustices that teens induce, we are not slacking off. Teenagers are becoming more involved in the world around them by increasing awareness and learning about others’ difficulties in a way that is practical for our limited resources and busy schedules. We are not slacker activists, but practical activists—practivists. –by Lisa D’souza

Con – Get off the screen: no more armchair activism

graphic: Dorothy Weiss

graphic: Dorothy Weiss

Slacktivism. People contribute to this doing-good-through-social-media hype simply because it is easy. Whether it is sharing a video, liking a post on Facebook, retweeting, or the most recent fad, dumping a bucket of ice water over your head, slacktivism is a passive and potentially dangerous way to avoid weightier monetary donations to a cause.

The danger comes from the question of whether or not an organization is legitimate. As those who participate in slacktivism are already tending towards the lazier side of the spectrum, we cannot expect too much from them. We cannot expect that they will look into the organization who is promoting a cause or that they will really take the time to understand its message. The recent ALS ice bucket challenge has been wildly successful—and thankfully, a percentage of the money has been going to laboratories conducting research. However, this is not always the case.

In 2012, a video called KONY 2012, in which three filmmakers made the western world aware of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its practice of kidnapping Nigerian children, went viral. The video was wildly successful in spreading the word, and their charity, Invisible Children, gathered huge amounts of money for the cause.

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. Those who looked into the charity found that one of its major goals was to help the Nigerian army, a horrible, corrupt organization which is guilty of crimes including rape, and the Nigerian government, which is not only corrupt but has a history of repressing sexual minorities like homosexuals, according to an article written by CKN Nigeria. Part of the reason Joseph Kony was still at large was because Nigerians were too distrustful of their own military to help it combat the LRA.

Furthermore, the filmmakers who made the video were far from qualified. Later that year, one of the founders was detained for being drunk and masturbating in public, according to an article by Sarah Grieco. None has extensive experience in Africa—each has gone to Africa only once—and, to top it off, of the three executives of Invisible Children, two have never had a formal, business-related job before. The one who has worked with financial equity firms, not in anything resembling a charity.

Not surprisingly, these unqualified directors have run the charity in a suspicious manner: they have not allowed independent auditing of their finances, so no one could verify their financial reports, and they have been criticized by the Better Business Bureau for not being transparent.

All of this was under the radar as Invisible Children raked in money, primarily because the slacktivists neglected to do research into the workings of the charity they were helping. Even worse, every dollar donated to Invisible Children was one dollar fewer donated to other charities, as charitable giving in the United States has stayed at around two percent of the nation’s GDP ever since 1970, according to an article by Dan Pallotta.

And this makes sense. People who do not have exorbitant amounts of money and donate to charity must budget their money, only giving a certain amount to charity each year. The amount donated will change only if their income changes, not if a campaign goes viral. The dollars that went to Invisible Children thus in effect came from other charities, many of which were likely better run and for better causes.

Had people known all of this about Invisible Children, it would probably not have raised $26 million, considering it had only raised 13 million the year before.

There is inherent danger in participating in slacktivism, as organizations who use this method to spread the word can easily take advantage of the situation. And because of the laziness slacktivism promotes, chances are slim that people who are participating in sharing or liking or dumping buckets of water on their head will also conduct further research on the topic. In fact, slacktivism discourages people to research the issue at hand because it makes it too easy to “feel good” about contributing to a charity. The click of a button is all that is required, and there is no need to do more, right?

Wrong. Organizations should not make getting involved in a charity end at the click of a button, and people of the public should take it upon themselves to further their understanding about the organization. Sharing a post or dumping a bucket of water over your head is a fast, easy solution to spreading word about an important cause, but it soon becomes meaningless when no one knows what the cause truly is. While it can be fun to participate in slacktivism, any type of activism has bigger implications, so any charity should be considered, evaluated, and treated with that importance in mind. The activism fads that are generated should encourage people to do more than dump a bucket of water over their heads; there needs to be an incentive for people to learn about what they are supporting. Then, slacktivism will really take on meaning and come to embody its full potential. Until then, armchair activism creates social phenomena to which people feel obligated to donate without fully examining the ramifications of their actions. It is making us a nation of people who donate not to the causes most deserving of money but to the catchiest ones. –By Jai Nimgaonkar

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