Today’s world is dominated by social media. While it can be useful, it should not be exploited for certain types of activism. In fact, it can negatively impact the organizations implementing such social media promotion. These programs ultimately suffer from “slacktivism,” in which the audience is asked to support a cause by performing simple actions that require little involvement such as signing an online petition or sharing a video.
A recent campaign sweeping through the online world is the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) ice bucket challenge. The most popular version of this challenge involves either dumping ice water on oneself and posting a video of the reaction or donating $100. Because the videos are entertaining to watch, they have attracted an abundance of attention. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing someone yelping and prancing around in the cold? However, though the campaign has gained a lot of attention, many participants have forgotten about the challenge’s original goal. Making the video has become less about spreading ALS awareness but a way to seek attention and rack up Facebook “likes” while still “contributing” to the cause. Many videos even fail to mention how and where to donate to ALS. By substituting a $100 donation with a simple video, people are overlooking the true meaning of the video and instead using it to artificially increase their social standing among their peers.
The ALS ice bucket challenge has attracted so much attention that celebrities such as Mark Zuckerberg and David Beckham have gone out of their way to participate. Usually, celebrity involvement can help boost support and awareness of a cause, but the ALS videos have instead turned the campaign into a joke and an opportunity for self-publicity. For example, most of the participating celebrities have the money to donate, but instead, they decide to pour ice water on themselves. What kind of message does this send? If celebrities—some of the richest people in the world—choose not to donate, what average person would feel compelled to do so? Obviously, instead of caring about raising cause for ALS, these celebrities only care about videotaping the challenge and nominating other individuals. Seeing this attitude discourages viewers from taking the ALS challenge seriously. When people watch celebrities wince and laugh in the cold, they see the ALS challenge as something to do for laughs and entertainment. Thus, while publicity grows through this ploy, real activism diminishes. In addition, when people see celebrities—some of the richest people in the world—performing the ice bucket challenge rather than donating, they feel even less need to drop money for the cause. And even if people say they’ll donate, who tracks whether they actually do?
ALS is one of the few social media campaigns that has drawn any significant success despite suffering from slacktivism. It had raised at least $25 million by the end of August due to the awareness generated by the challenge. Other causes, however, have died out because of slacktivism. These social media campaigns make the audience feel like a simple share, post, video or profile picture change is more than enough to substitute for a donation. This causes people to feel content and accomplished in clicking a button when in reality they are changing nothing. KONY 2012, for example, was a 30-minute video produced by Invisible Children Inc. to draw international attention to Joseph Kony, a man who became notorious for kidnapping and employing children in East Africa as sex slaves and soldiers. The KONY 2012 video exploded upon release and raked in millions of views and shares. However, the organization quickly died out due to people’s slacktivism, and now, two whole years later, Kony is still free. A few other programs that also failed to make any real progress on social media are Chevy’s #purpleyourprofile and Michelle Obama’s #bringourgirlsback.
Slacktivism plagues nearly every cause that encourages people to “contribute” by the click of a button. These causes seem to value that click just as much as they do a monetary donation or the will to actually research, learn and help. Therefore, by monitoring the shares and likes as genuine activism in the making, the cause assumes a state of fake success which ultimately leads to its collapse with no real action that follows.
—Chen, a senior, is a News Editor.