**********I apologize for not properly citing my sources. I will fix them after this class. I was not sure how he wanted the sources cited, so I am asking him in class today and will have it fixed as soon as I can.*************
Activism has long been heralded as a mechanism for social and political change. The practice of activism in the United States dates back to before the country’s inception. From the Boston Tea Party challenging England’s rule to the March on Washington calling for equal rights for all, activism has been the prominent way to spur widespread change. Regardless of its intentions or how it is performed, activism has always had one common theme of uniting and connecting people from completely different backgrounds. Part of this results from the nature of activism. Both the Boston Tea Party and the March on Washington required the activists to devote long hours and to have direct contact with the cause involved.
The March on Washington, also known as The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, took place on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. (PBS) Approximately 250,000 supporters from all over the country came to the Lincoln Memorial that day to voice their opinion about the inequality faced by black Americans every day. (PBS) The March featured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and is considered the catalyst for both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Smithsonian). On the night of December 16, a group of 30 to 60 men dressed as Indians, raided the Boston Harbor and threw 342 chests of tea into the harbor, an event later called the Boston Tea Party (mass hist). This infamous act was a protest against the crown for the Tea Act, which taxed tea going into the colonies, and for a lack of colonial representation in British Parliament (us history). The Boston Tea Party helped to reject British rule in the colonies and helped in the creation of the democracy the United States of America currently features today. (mass hist)
Without the Sons of Liberty physically going to the Boston Harbor to dump the tea or the thousands of members of the March on Washington actually going to Washington D.C. very little would have changed. Both instances required people to actually be there to support the cause. Unfortunately, the new trend of activism has shifted to what many critics are calling slacktivism. A slacktivist is someone who does something “good” in support of a cause, however, that action actually required little to no personal effort, such as “liking” a Facebook status or “sharing” a video about a cause (one.org). Critics have drawn a very thick line between activism and slacktivism because they believe the two cannot coexist with one another. Slacktivism has become prominent due to the rise of the Internet and the increase in the use of social media websites, such as Facebook or Twitter. Instead of having to go out in public and hand out fliers or hang up posters around an area, organizations that are trying to build support can make a Facebook page, post the details of the event, and spread it across the world in a matter of clicks. It seems like a great use of technology, but critics say that the people that share the messages get instant gratification from the ability to share a cause that they actually do not go out and support that cause (huff post).
Critics often turn to the KONY 2012 movement as the quintessential example of slacktivism. In March of 2012, Invisible Children, an organization dedicated to bringing to light the use of child soldiers in Africa, released a video introducing war criminal Joseph Kony to the world. It highlighted the war crimes he committed in Uganda and brought to light his use of child soldiers. All while doing so, it encouraged viewers to go to their local congressman to encourage them to use the United States military to stop Kony, as well as go to the Invisible Children website to buy a five dollar care package to help support their cause in Uganda. The video was a huge success, after only three days it reached close to 30 million views. Opponents of the video and its message rained criticism down on the video for many reasons. The first and most obvious critique was that the video took a very complex situation and made it something that could be stopped with the click of a mouse and the capture of a bad guy (forbes). Capturing Kony would have been a huge step in the right direction for this part of Africa, but he is no longer in Uganda and his forces are a fraction of what they used to be. Uganda is in the state it’s in because of a much more convoluted history and not from one man (encyclopedia). Accompanying the issue of oversimplification is that people are supporting Invisible Children with no history of the organization or how it works. Invisible Children does not have a good track record of using the money donated properly and critics believe situations like this will be multiplied when people support organizations and causes they are not a part of or that they understand (ethan). Another critique of the Kony movement is that instead of advocating for more change or joining Invisible Children, people are going to buy the thirty-dollar care package and share the video, but then forget about the issue as a whole (ethan).
Even though it is only a year and a half old, the KONY 2012 movement and Invisible Children have done very little to say they are even close to finding Kony. This has furthered the skepticism of slacktivism and strengthened the belief that activism and slacktivism are two different things and cannot be related. In response to this skepticism, many organizations and universities have been conducting studies to see the true effect of this slacktivism and if it actually has any effect on the movements it supports. Georgetown University recently completed a study that calls into question the critics of slacktivism and its believed effects. The survey called into question, among other things, whether or not slacktivism actually hindered activism. The results were surprising. According to the survery, “Americans still prefer historically prominent ways of engaging with causes as well as traditional sources of cause information,” (Georgetown). Only fifteen percent of people use Internet activism as their number one source of activism (Georgetown). Many people still use the Internet as a way for them to get involved, but it is often a secondary action. Another surprising result from the survey is that nearly two-thirds of Americans learn about causes and other issues from other people from talking to other people about those causes, not through social media or the internet (Georgetown). Many of these results call in question the belief that activism and slacktivism cannot coexist.
Many people believe that slacktivism is taking over true activism. They believe that activism in the real world and activism in the virtual world cannot coexist, and therefore one has to take over for the other. It highlights the long-standing debate about the online compared to the offline. The belief amongst many people today is that because of the overuse of social media sites and cell phones, we are going to lose connection with true human contact. Instead of walking up to someone and holding a spoken conversation with that person, these critics believe that humans will begin to walk up to people and have to text or instant message the other person just to have a conversation with them (Turkle). Slacktivism falls under the same category. Many people believe that because someone shares something online, they will forget about what they could and should be doing in the offline. This has led to many people trying to find ways to stop online slacktivism and only have offline activism. This belief is going to severely damage activism as a whole. As demonstrated by the Georgetown University study, people who participated in slacktivism are usually doing it after they have actively participated in activism. Slacktivism also allows people who are not connected with a certain organization and who do not have time for it, to support and aid the cause, all from the ease of their chair. It allows more people to support more causes and helps to build much stronger following for other causes. Yes, slacktivism has its flaws, especially in the oversimplification of very complex issues. Yes it lets people receive instant gratification from actions that require little energy or effort. But that only occurs if slacktivism is viewed as a new type of activism that gets rid of the old type of activism. Imagine the Boston Tea Party or the March on Washington in a time when there was Facebook. The support for these causes would have dwarfed the support those causes had in their time. The online and offline do coexist, and work best when they do just that. Instead of slacktivism taking over activism, they should be viewed as a coexisting force for good.