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home : opinion : columns May 24, 2016

4/16/2014 6:00:00 AM
Column: For the slacktivist in all of us

Ryan Abella
Miner Staff Reporter

One effect of growing up connected to the Internet is that most of us, especially Millennials, have channeled our energy into the dissemination of information and have mistaken it for change. The idea of exerting minimal effort to cause the maximum amount of social change isn't a new concept. There's a term for it: slacktivism.

The term has two very different connotations, however. Slacktivism was originally quite positive. It referred to young people doing service projects on a small scale. These were simple things like cleaning up a neighbor's yard or planting a tree. With minimal commitment and a short spurt of effort, you could create change on a community level.

With social media, we were able to take slacktivism to the Internet and comment on the bigger issues. Rather than working on a community level, slacktivists could inform the public of the horrors of human trafficking, how climate change will irreversibly destroy the planet, or how much doctors hate the Affordable Care Act. Any issue that was in the limelight was fair game for semi-active engagement by people on a broad scale with a simple click of the mouse.

Now, in 2014, I'm staring at a Facebook page with pictures of people going makeup-less to support cancer patients or friends asking me to share captioned pics with fabricated stories created to elicit an emotional response. Of course I care about these issues. But will sharing it with all my friends in the name of raising awareness create change? Or does it serve my needs over the needs of the cause?

Kony 2012 was one of slactivisim's finest hours. Invisible Children Inc. created a short film in 2012 raising awareness of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and the man accused of displacing nearly 2 million people and enlisting 66,000 children as soldiers.

The film was released on Youtube and, within a week, garnered 60 million views. Every news outlet and social media platform was blanketed with "Stop Kony" and the Internet activists who dominated the movement. There was no debate as far as Joseph Kony was concerned: the international community has always universally condemned him and his cause.

The issue was this new breed of slacktivism and how quickly the masses could be manipulated, misled and distracted from following through with their cause. When I asked people who Joseph Kony is, many could not tell me what his crime was or if we caught him or not. At the time the documentary came out, Kony and the LRA were out of Uganda. His army was down to hundreds, and Joseph Kony was last reported in the Central African Republic negotiating surrender with their president.

Most of the Kony 2012 movement dropped out within a matter of weeks without knowing what really happened to Joseph Kony. Invisible Children Inc. canceled demonstrations. Ugandans spoke out against the film, labeling it as misleading and claiming it did more harm than good.

President Obama even ordered an additional 150 troops and aircraft support to deploy in Central Africa on March 24, raising the number of military personnel in the region to 280. Not one slacktivist shared that news on my Facebook feed.

Kony 2012 brought to light the dangers of viral movements, especially ones based on misleading or false information. Slacktivism survives on the masses of people out there clicking and sharing as quickly as possible. Slacktivists rarely check for multiple primary sources. If they do, they risk being late to the movement and losing out on the reason for sharing it in the first place: for online clout and that feeling that they made a difference.

Here's the hard fact that slacktivism has yet to embrace: You will not make a difference by clicking a button. Those clicks needs to translate into something substantial and, oftentimes, that comes from active engagement and a little thing called work.

Want to help cancer patients? Donate some of your hair, or ask organizations dedicated to a cause you support what you can do for them. Most of the time they will ask for money or time, and both are equally important in fighting for social issues.

If a click translates to dollars spent or hours donated, then the movement is doing its job of getting you actively involved. Activism requires you to be active. It's right there in the word. And when the masses of slacktivists finally start getting active, all those likes and shares will actually come to fruition in the real world as problems we solved together.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Article comment by: The Fox Hound

It doesn't surprise me that young people are not very active in trying to bring about change and I really don't think it's just the young either. People in general have seen how America has changed as opportunities have left this country because of globalization. Something that they had no control over. They read the news on the net and they see CEO's making over 300 times what a working person makes and they know that they have actually lost ground because of inflation and they know they don't have the influence that the rich command. Its a little hard to expect them to come out of college and suddenly right the world. But I do think that the changes that are taking place are coming from the younger people. They don't have all the hang ups and traditional religious values of the older power structure that are holding us back as a nation. I'm glad that the Miner is hiring some younger writers. It shows that they must realize that Arizona is changing as the old people die off. I think that we older people have left some pretty big problems we simply don't seem to want to solve. I don't think we can blame the young when our generation were such terrible parents.

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Article comment by: pl .....

Nice message for the Millennials, but there are older folks online who have certainly worked over the years, including volunteer work. As for Uganda, one of the world's worst psychopaths arrived unannounced at London Heathrow amidst his growing list of atrocities back in Uganda at one point, and the Queen received that maniacal former British army sergeant as a head of state. Maybe if Tim Berners-Lee & Al Gore had invented the Internet earlier, an online campaign against Idi Amin would have been more sustainable than the Kony effort. Something about being photogenic & all that. As for myself, not being royalty & being generally skeptical nowadays towards diplomatic cover for psychopathy, I will resort occasionally to the Internet with brutal regard for truth. And don't mistake a methodical approach to its enemies as slacktivism, youngster.

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