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Letter to the editor: Slacktivism vs activism

What are you really doing to make change?
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We’ve all seen one of these before: a pitch-black square on Instagram; a fist or rainbow border on a Facebook profile picture; or videos of neighbors stuck in quarantine and cheering on their local healthcare workers. Perhaps, we are even guilty of a few of these. So what are they? And what makes them concerning? These acts are called slacktivism.

According to the United Nations, slacktivism occurs “when people ‘support a cause by performing simple measures’ but are not necessarily ‘engaged or devoted to making a change.’”

So why is it bad? While these efforts are not inherently bad, many people feel that these actions are performative. Paved with good intentions, these efforts show solidarity and support, but what do they really accomplish? Simply put, slacktivism makes people feel as if they are a part of something without putting in the effort.

Gen Z journalist Siobhan Mullally shares her thoughts on the phenomenon: “So, can the progress of movements actually be stalled if people are just sharing the content but no one is taking action or actively trying to change? This is how the rise of social media activism can be counterproductive to genuine activism. The act of retweeting a post on Twitter may allow people to feel as though they have done their part and satisfied their ‘activist duty,’ even when no action or transformation has really taken place (me being anti-Amazon online, then buying books on Amazon offline). Maybe my social media activity gave me a sense of fulfillment that allowed me to mentally check off the ‘activism’ box in my mind, giving me more space to make less sustainable choices, given that I had ‘already done my good for the day.’”

Mullaly’s experience, one many of us share, is not something to be ashamed of, but something we should take a closer look at. Sure, slacktivism can be useful when it comes to spreading knowledge, but it doesn't bring real change. It is only in these tactics along with in person support that real change comes.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us wanted to support healthcare workers on the front lines. In lockdown, cheering and clapping for healthcare workers outside at 8 p.m. became a tradition that many of us adopted nightly.

But what did this really do?

Did it protect healthcare workers or create new laws to ensure their safety?

Unfortunately, it did not. While the idea is likely appreciated, token displays of support hardly make a difference. So the next time you go to retweet a petition or change your Facebook photo, ask yourself: am I doing this to make a difference or to make myself feel accomplished? Then take the extra step, research upcoming rallies, protests and events that you can attend. Contact your state and federal representatives. Become an advocate for the change you want to see.

Mackenzie Farmer
Longmont resident