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I’m a serial slacktivist and proud…

21/02/2011

Following the most recent London NFPTweetup meeting of charity social media users, I was interested to read a thought-provoking and increasingly commented upon blog from @SamRSparrow (aka Samantha Sparrow) about ‘slacktivism’.  For those of you new to this term, and according to Wikipedia;

the word slacktivism is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. Examples of activities labeled as “slacktivist” include signing internet petitions, the wearing of awareness ribbons or awareness bracelets with political messages, putting a ribbon magnet on a vehicle, writing blogs or statuses about issues on social networking sites, joining a Facebook group, posting issue-oriented YouTube videos, or altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services

This suggests to me that being a ‘slacktivist’ is considered a bad thing by at least the authors of the definition, who, are the truly engaged and spend their time moving heaven and earth to change the world.

You do indeed do a great job but please get over yourselves.

Samantha’s blog suggests that being a slacktivist might not be such a bad thing and that many people are involved with charities at this level.  And I couldn’t agree more.  Millions of pounds have been raised by people wearing charity bracelets.  Hundreds of millions have been raised through slacktivists supporting initiatives like Comic Relief, Children in Need and DEC Appeals.  I don’t see anything pejorative about that.

As the blog rightly points out, not everyone wants to stand in front of a tank!  In other words, not everyone wants to change the world in the same way.  But I want to make the case further for slacktivism in 2011 as I don’t agree that it should just be a step to closer ‘engagement’ with the cause, as this suggests there’s something wrong with slacktivist support.  Here’s my thinking:

  • Not every charity is ‘fighting a corner’ and therefore in need of traditional activists to march or lobby (I appreciate I’m over-simplifying in terms of the activities).
  • Those that do seek to drive change can use more passive means to be successful – just look at recent change movements in the middle east which used technology and even tagged buildings to organise.  These approaches are likely to appeal to a wider group of supporters because they are simply easier to take part in.
  • Not every charity supporter wants to be fully engaged with the cause.  Sorry, but people don’t.  We know that many supporters like to be involved across a number of issues which reflect their modern lives.  This doesn’t mean they must be fought over by competing charities to turn them into fully engaged supporters!  In fact this may even turn them off completely?
  • Instead, being a 2011 slacktivist enables people to support many causes with the limited time available – spreading the love, the volunteering and the donations around the sector.  Perhaps we could just acknowledge this support for what it is and do what we can to maintain and nurture it at this (or slightly higher) levels without assuming this is just the first step to greater things?

Drawing on my own experience, I work with lots of charities and support several others but I can’t be a traditional activist for all of them.  In fact, I’m equally passionate about each of the causes I support and wouldn’t be prepared to sacrifice several of them in order to free up sufficient time to stand in front of the proverbial tank for just one charity.

I’m a serial slacktivist trying to help multiple charities effect changes that I think are important.  Technology helps the charities keep me involved and gives me the opportunity to promote them in turn.  Slacktivism is actually empowering me to do more good than I could have done 10 years ago and right now it suits my lifestyle.

If the number of charity retweets, Facebook likes and bracelets being worn are any measure at all, then I’m not alone.  Perhaps it’s time for us to rethink what we expect when we talk about engaged supporters and acknowledge that one size of support does not fit all?

(Slacktivist T-shirt image from http://www.zazzle.co.uk)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 22/02/2011 9:42 am

    Kevin, absolutely loving this blog! Up with the Slacktivists!! I am like you, support a number of causes in different ways. I used to support two charities via payroll giving, because they are close to my heart, but only one of them I did a 5k for, because essentially I don’t have the energy to run more than one race a year!

    I volunteer with one charity, but I spend quite a lot of time retweeting and liking another. I will also support and re-tweet friend’s fundraising efforts on social media platforms.

    And now I campaign against the closure of an outdoor sports centre near me. Are my efforts appreciated by the charities I work with! I blimmin hope so!

    It was only through buying a cake at a cake sale aged 11 for Children in Need that I got switched on to charity – and who said buying cakes was slacktivist!!

  2. 25/02/2012 11:53 pm

    I wouldn’t consider both you and Samantha Sparrow to be slackivists. You two are volunteering and donating to charities. Of course you can’t actively participate in every single charity, but you still promote them and that’s a good thing.

    The problem starts when people wear bracelets, pink shirts, etc… but don’t collect donations or refer others to charity. The only message those people are sending is “do what I do, wear pink”. To me that’s slackivism.

    • 28/02/2012 12:49 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts – they’re very welcome.

      I’m not sure people wearing bracelets is ‘a problem’ for charities as they do generate useful funds to enable the charities concerned to deliver more of the good work they do. But I do agree that it would certainly help if we could all talk about the charities we support and perhaps encourage others to do so too…

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