Have you ever tried to make yourself seem cooler, smarter, more of a philanthropist than you really are? Facebook is often criticized for having this effect on people. In recent years, a new phenomenon called “social media activism” has been becoming more frequent.
While using social media can be beneficial to spreading awareness of issues around the world, many people have turned activism into “slactivism.” Urban Dictionary calls slactivism “the ideology for people who want to appear to be doing something for a particular cause without actually having to do anything.” This term fits most of us who have ever “liked” a Facebook page or changed our profile picture in support of a noble cause. It’s great to show support for causes such as child abuse, civil rights and the environment. However, are we really doing justice by “liking” a Facebook page? Slactivism is fairly common and widespread even amongst the strongest activists, but it needs to stop — it isn’t doing anyone any good.
Kony 2012, a recent campaign by Invisible Children, is a great example of slactivism. A video about the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda went viral in 2012. Its message was heart-wrenching and the visuals that went with it added salt to the wound. The video prompted college students all around the U.S. to share the video and their thoughts on Facebook by urging others to open their eyes and stop this man. However, less than three months later, the video was forgotten, and the status updates and tweets had stopped. The problem of the Lord’s Resistance was and is still there, but the once heated and passionate group of students became less interested.
Philanthropy shouldn’t be a fad, but it does become trendy every so often. And unfortunately for those in need, it goes out of style. It seems like social media activists will do the least amount of work possible in order to appear as if they’re doing something to support a cause. This is explained in social psychology as the Bystander Effect.
The probability of the victim receiving help is inversely related to the number of bystanders present at the time. This happens when three variables are in place: ambiguity of emergency, cohesiveness of the situation and diffusion of responsibility. Research done to test this effect shows that people tend to assume that someone else will help the victim, especially if there are more people around. It’s possible that because we see thousands of other people on Facebook who have “liked” the same cause, we assume that the needs of that organization have been or will be filled by others. The problem with this is that if everyone assumes that they are not personally responsible, then no money is donated, no volunteers step up and nothing gets done.
Research done at British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business finds that “If people are able to declare support for a charity publicly in social media, it can actually make them less likely to donate to the cause later on.” Interesting, since this suggests that some people only donate so that they can feel good and tell their friends what they did. The ability to publicly declare support for a cause made a generation of people passive. However, not all hope is lost.
We should recognize and become more aware that “liking” a page is good but going out and volunteering does more. This way, we can really support helpful organizations and make some actual change. Awareness isn’t always enough.
Kenna Harpell is a sophomore communication major.