I have a confession…I am a slacktivist
Yes, it is true. Rather, was true. I had been searching for a cure from slacktivism for a while. I don’t know when it started, but I recognized my slacktivism when I saw KONY 2012 last year and “liked” the video. It was apparent when I attended a screening of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s HOME project two years ago and shared the video on my Facebook page.
It even struck me when I was deciding whether or not to change my Facebook profile picture in support of Japan after the 2011 earthquake, the Supreme Court’s current consideration of DOMA and many other instances of social media “action”. Was my “like” really going to change the world?
If you haven’t caught on by now, the term slacktivist, according to an article about social media and AIDS in UNAID’s 2010 Outlook Report, “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change.” Slacktivists get a bad rap. Malcolm Gladwell claims “the revolution will not be tweeted“, and Micah White states that a sub-group of slacktivists, “clicktivists”, “damage every political movement they touch.”
However, a 2011 Georgetown / Oglivy study showed that slacktivists (or “social media cause promoters” as classified in the study) have a much higher propensity than non-social media cause promoters to actually take action, whether that be taking part in an event, donating money, or volunteering time.
Furthermore, hasn’t social media increased awareness of causes around the world? The internet has connected the global community in one giant network, and increased information transparency by itself has changed the world around us. Just look at the Arab Spring movement, the anti-SOPA uproar, Ushahidi, and even TED.
In fact a TED talk by Jacqueline Novogratz led me to read her book The Blue Sweater almost three years ago – Acumen was an organization I could get behind. I was inspired by Acumen’s cause, and it helped reaffirm my goal of helping to solve some of the world’s most complex social problems including health, poverty alleviation, education, and sustainability. I joined the email list, and happily donated to the organization, but for the most part was still a slacktivist.
These organizations, movements and causes are all awe-inspiring and yet felt so distant from what I could accomplish as an individual. I’ve volunteered for and supported many causes over the course of my life, but I had not really taken a deep look into why I supported these causes. It was just too easy to passively support something that intuitively felt right to me. I needed to engage in both self-reflection and dialogue to truly understand what mattered most to me and why.
I empowered myself by reframing the world as one of possibility and opportunity as Rosamund and Benjamin Zander described in their book The Art of Possibility, and as Stanford professor Tina Seelig describes in her Innovation Engine paradigm.
I looked to alternative methods to see how to better motivate myself and others to take action. For example, I read Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken and was pleasantly surprised to learn how games can help motivate people to strive for a larger purpose.
I wanted to understand the roots of my personal motivations and beliefs, and this year even enrolled in the online offering of Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s Justice course. It has only been a few weeks into the class, but the experience has challenged me to dig deep and confirm the reasons for the values and causes I support.
I took one additional step this year when I decided to become a more active volunteer with NY+acumen. I’m glad I did. In the span of a few months I’ve met plenty of amazing fellow volunteers, am working towards some causes I believe in, and am reinventing myself once again.
In the end each of us has our own paths to follow into and out of slacktivism. There is no simple turnkey model that I can provide to you.
I’ve included a short (but, by no means complete) list of local organizations that you can check out to help you with your slacktivism and would invite you to share your stories in the comments and other organizations (both New York and globally focused) that you have found especially motivating.
Why did you join Acumen or any other socially focused organization that you support and how did you come to become involved with this organization?
What are your thoughts on slacktivism? Do its benefits outweigh its grounds for criticism?
Are there any other organizations or websites you recommend joining in addition to below?
The views expressed in this blog are of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Acumen Fund.