This column is a head-to-head. Read the opposing article "Opinion: Social media activism not meant to be strictly 'slacktivism,' new revolution is digital" here.
On June 2, Instagram went dark – people all across the country posted black squares in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement. People quickly realized that the hashtag #BLM was being overwhelmed with tagged black squares, and important information about protests and updates concerning the movement were being lost. This is one of the most obvious and telling examples of "Slacktivism" in recent months.
"Slacktivism" is a type of activism in which people support a cause using simple actions often involving social media and aren’t really devoted to change or even all that engaged. While many "Slacktivist" efforts, like Blackout Tuesday earlier in June, are started with good intentions, they often end up attracting more performative activists than actual activists.
Performative activism is exactly what it sounds like: activism devoid of genuine sentiment, usually performed in order to avoid backlash or being called ignorant. One of the most dangerous forms of performative activism, comes from a high presence of activism on social media and a lack of implementation in real-life scenarios.
Posting “Justice of George Floyd” on your Instagram story and then avoiding difficult conversations in social environments or refusing to hold yourself and others accountable is detrimental to the movement and disrespectful of those who poured their time, energy and lives into making change and standing for progress.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and "Slacktivism" isn’t always harmful – the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014, for example, increased awareness and raised $115 million dollars for the ALS Association – but overall, "Slacktivism" turns real causes and issues into trends and hashtags.
The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls trended in 2014 after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, but the apparent outrage plastered all over social media never led to any actual change. Instead, people felt they had done their part by retweeting hashtags and liking posts.
"Slacktivism" gives people the warm, fuzzy feeling of “doing something,” of creating change, without actually putting themselves out there or risking anything in their own comfortable lives. It’s very easy to retweet a petition asking for the release of an unfairly arrested protester and then immediately put the entire BLM movement out of your mind and mindlessly scroll through social media.
"Slacktivism" itself isn’t bad; in fact, during a global pandemic it could even be considered a socially conscious way to spread information and support a cause without potentially putting others at risk, but the intention behind every post matters. If you’re posting as a part of trend or to feel good about yourself, you’re a part of the problem.
As your timeline goes back to normal, as you see fewer and fewer #BLM posts, now is a good time to do some self-reflection and to ask yourself, “What did I actually do?” Did you sign that petition before you shared it? If you are financially able, did you donate? Did you write letters or send emails to your state representatives advocating for legislative change? Or did you just add a trendy hashtag to your story? Don’t wait around for others to make change just so you can repost it. Be the change.
This column is a head-to-head. Read the opposing article "Opinion: Slacktivism discredits Bl…
Marie Plunkett is a 21-year-old Classical Studies major from New Orleans, Louisiana.