I recall the wave of French flags that Facebook users laid over their profile photos this year and my thought process around deciding not to follow suit although many of my FB pals had done so. When I first starting reading about the story my reaction was that this was a simple way to demonstrate support and compassion for a country and city suffering from a senseless attack. I was about to change my profile and follow suit, but then I start reading more posts (not from anyone I actually knew) and discovered that doing so was actually controversial.
What could be controversial at first glance? As I read on I found that those not changing their profile agreed that is was senseless tragedy as well, but did not feel this was the best way to address the tragedy. There were various reasons for and against, but the one post that stood out for me the most was by a person that wanted the whole event minimized in any form of media. Their argument was that the support was appreciated, yet they did not want a media outpouring to give the terrorists any extension of “fame”. For me, at this time, the argument made a great deal of sense. We’ve used a similar arguments before to avoid glorifying murderers and rapists. So I did not change by FB profile.
At the time I had no idea that this topic is part of the whole slacktivist debate. After reading though the articles from this past week and considering some of the activism projects in the digital world, I’m still a bit uncertain about whether slacktivism is a good or bad thing. This graph gives a quick overview of what would be considered slacktivism vs activism, but after reading more about this topic, I do not feel one is necessarily more effective or better than the other.
Both Branstetter and Rosmarin talk about the common critiques of slacktivists being shallow and just appearing to be socially conscious when more could be done with real action. This could be in the form of donations or other active on the ground work. However, Branstetter argues that slacktivism is actually dead as millennial actually use the digital world to equip themselves to protest both digitally and by foot while Rosmarin points out that slacktivism does create awareness while cynics of slacktivists will actually encourage these better informed individuals to make better choices and at some point take action.
So when I consider slacktivism in this light, it is neither good or bad. It is important to consider what you share and like along with why you do so. It should not be about being appearing to be socially conscious or raising something contentious for the sake of shock value, but engaging in digital activity that has meaning to you. Groetzinger notes that slacktivism in larger networked numbers provides support to those actually on the ground and that those actively engaged in digital activism are more likely to become involved in real life. Therefore, slacktivism can be a mechanism for individuals to learn about and become better informed before making a conscious decision about their on foot involvement.
The key here though is actively engaged. Slacktivism cannot be about signing every petition that floats across your screen or shouting out comments for shock value. It must be a way to learn about injustices and challenges (both locally and globally) and find out how you could actively engage digitally and if you are compelled and able to do so on foot as well. Slacktivism, as many would argue creates much greater awareness than ever before so individuals and as a collective we can influence positive change. This video gives a simple overview of how such awareness through the digital world is actually a modern form of activism. We can make better choices and informed decisions by engaging online in meaningful ways and find ways to influence change without necessarily going to traditional activism methods (although there is still a place for that too).
This debate is far from over, but more than anything is has allowed me to think more consciously about what I post or engage in online. I was already doing it thinking back to the flag example, but now this whole concept of online activism has made me start to consider what I have maybe commented, liked or shared without considering the full message behind that story and what activist message I am sending. Digital activism is creating self-awareness and understanding what messages you support by sharing. I do not know that I will ever be as dedicated as Martha Payne, but her work is proof that digital campaigns such as hers can be very effective in informing and advocating for change, which is by definition activism.