Activism vs. Slacktivism


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Nora Studholme is a 2014 UNA-USA Social Good Summit Blogger Fellow. View this post on her blog here

As the coverage of global issues grows increasingly pervasive in our everyday lives through internet sources like Facebook and Twitter, we have all at one point been moved by a story enough to ask:

“So, what can I do?”

Several groups at the Social Good Summit brought up this same issue, with varying degrees of criticism and comfort.  NYT Journalist Nick Kristof calls social media a “Gateway Drug,” an almost inevitable stepping stone to something greater.  Others, however, have decried “slacktivism” and encouraged taking real action in the world rather than spending life behind a screen.

But no one seemed to provide a satisfactory solution to the question of what we can actually do.  And when a crisis needs results quickly, social media frenzies or “trending” topics can miss the crucial timing.  If social media is supposed to be so empowering for the average individual, where is the proof of our impact?

Social Media allows us to rally behind a cause by sending out tweets, posting information, or sharing photographs, which can sometimes lead to ripple effects in the real world.  But when it comes to individuals undertaking real actions with tangible impact, Facebook posts simply do not make a tangible difference in the lives of people affected.

At the UN General Assembly this Tuesday, many will be calling for governmental “commitments” to make changes to the world’s most pressing issues, but even these are just words.  Have we become a global community of “talkers” without any “walkers”?  Particularly working in the field of social media and journalism, sometimes reading endless hashtags and retweets can feel like being at an architecture school where no one ever actually constructs a building.slacktivism

This lack of concrete action is no one’s fault: people have lives, and lives are inherently busy.  The average person does not have time to make a massive commitment to any particular cause.  And therein, I believe, lies the potential of social media.  After all, if you can get 10,000 people to spend one minute on something, the effect would be the same as a week’s worth of working 24 hours per day.

For those who have only a moment to dedicate to social change, the UN Foundation provides quick, easy, actionable items.  These can come in the form of a “toolkit,” for example, mobilizing people to tweet at a particular time, or to focus posts and tweets at a particular congressman.  The goals don’t have to get smaller, just more concrete.  The UN Foundation, in this case, is acting like the conductor of a vast orchestra– what beautiful music we can all make together if we just have a leader to direct our individual efforts.

Another solution to the talk-without-walk challenge facing social media “slacktivism” has been used highly successfully by the program Shot @ Life.  They turned talk into action by creating a partnership with Walgreens: the company agreed to donate one vaccine for every comment that was left on a Shot @ Life blog.  The result?  60,000 very real vaccines administered to real children who would otherwise have been left at risk.

So if you’re online right now, retweeting #2030Now and tweeting @sgs, take one minute to make a real change.  Sign a petition, download a UN Foundation toolkit, vote for the new 2030 UN Development Goals.

And then, get off your computer for an hour, for a day, and go do something.

“To make things happen you have to make things.” -Richard Curtis

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