Slacktivism: Can Social Media Create Real-World Impact?

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When the Kony 2012 video (a short film to raise awareness of and campaign against African war criminal Joseph Kony) went viral, I first heard the term “slacktivism.” My professor asked the handful of students in our class how a few million views on a YouTube video would stop a warlord. What were our Facebook comments and Twitter shares actually doing to change a horrific situation in Africa? What happened when people stopped posting?

In its simplest sense, “slacktivism” is defined as activism for slackers.Wikipedia,Urban Dictionary and countless critics use the term pejoratively to describe people who support larger causes or social issues by engaging in “feel-good” measures, such as sending a tweet or liking something on Facebook. I know I’ve done this plenty of times, and I’m not alone – Facebook status updates have become digital soapboxes for people voicing their opinions on politics, global issues, even the weather.

But some critics argue that slacktivists aren’t creating any real-world effects; instead, they are simply making themselves feel good. Sitting at a laptop and pressing the “share” button does not create change, and by performing such simple measures, these individuals are not truly engaged or devoted to supporting a cause.

What social media does, however, is provide a voice and allow those messages to reach the masses instantaneously. The impressiveness of the internet and social media is in its vast outreach and how easy it makes these simple acts. While signing an internet petition or buying a t-shirt with an organization’s logo on it may seem like passive measures for people who aspire to create change on a grand scale, many – especially the “Millennials” ­– feel that such small acts are the initial sparks in the fire.

Slacktivism has been attributed almost exclusively to the Millennial generation, my generation. People ages 18-30 currently dominate the online and social media world. It’s not surprising, seeing as we are the largest generation in U.S. history. In his new book, “Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World,” David D. Burnstein explains that the Millennial generation is strongly committed to their high ideals, beliefs and values. ( We have lofty goals and idealistic visions of how the world should be, and we think that’s great. However, we recognize that to achieve such ambitious goals, we need to start small and take incremental, practical steps. Since Facebook and Twitter and Instagram have become integrated in our daily lives, it makes sense that we Millennials are more confident and comfortable taking action through these online tools.

But what is the real-world value of a few thousand Facebook “likes”? Can a YouTube campaign or a Twitter hashtag end world hunger? Maybe not singlehandedly, but it surely can’t hurt.

While an hour spent online is different than an hour spent volunteering at a homeless shelter, it can lead to the same impact.A study from Georgetown University examined how Americans learn about and interact with social issues and causes. Traditional forms of activism, such as volunteering or donating money to a cause, do outpace slacktivism. However, social media is often the means to the same end. Results from the Georgetown study showed that those who engage in social issues online are actually twice as likely to volunteer and participate in events offline.

For me, a small contribution is better than none. As often as I can, I use sites like these, which donate money, food, clothing and more to those in need:

  • It takes less than a second to click, it’s free, and it donates food to people in 74 different countries. You can also choose to preserve land by clicking on The Rainforest Site, donate a book to a child with The Literacy Site, and a handful more. Each site has its own online store with jewelry, clothes, and gifts – when you purchase something, you donate even more.
  • Play vocabulary games and other trivia, and for each question you get right, 10 grains of rice is donated through the World Food Programme. There is even an SAT prep game to help you practice grammar and expand your vocabulary.
  • Forget Google – this site donates a penny to the non-profit organization or school of your choice every time you search the web. You can choose to support causes such as UNICEF, the ASPCA, United Way, and Stand Up to Cancer.
  • Similar to GoodSearch, this site donates to charities every time you open a new tab in your web browser. I frequently have 10 tabs open at once, in multiple windows, even in multiple web browsers. Finally, my short attention span can do more good!
  • Formerly FreePoverty, this site asks you to watch a 30-second advertisement – the same ads you’re already watching on TV. The difference is, the organization donates 100% of its ad revenue to foundations such as Water For People. 30 seconds laughing at a Doritos commercial provides a week’s worth of clean water to someone in need.

I only wish more companies and businesses would catch on. It may be a drop in the bucket, but when these simple concepts are put to use by the masses, massive change can occur. When millions of people are discussing a cause through social media – though we may not be the creating the change we desire – progress occurs.

What are your thoughts about slacktivism and how social media is changing the way we change the world?

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