If you frequent Tumblr, Facebook, or any other social media platform that allows users to hurl their politically-charged opinions into the void of the Internet (i.e., all of them), you've probably come across someone accusing another person of slacktivism. Judging from the accused's affronted reaction, it's an insult on par with attacking someone's mom, but you've probably caught yourself wondering: what does slacktivism even mean? Where did it come from? Is it really that big a deal? Am I secretly a slacktivist and don't even know it? Fortunately, I took one for the team and spent my afternoon researching all of the above. (The life of a journalist sure is hard sometimes, amiright?) First up is a little history for the uninitiated.
Where Did It Come From?
Obviously, "slacktivism" is a combination of the terms "slacker" and "activism," and according to Know Your Meme, the first recorded use of the term reaches all the way back to 1995, during a series of seminars on teenage activism. It started to spread in 2001 after appearing in Newsday, and it merited an Urban Dictionary entry in 2003. In 2008, NPR discussed the term in "Slaktivists Are the New Activists," in which one contributor stated that "slacktivism is the new apathy." Soon, thinkpieces were written, research was conducted, and as of 2015, slacktivism is now part of the blogosphere's daily vernacular, especially in the social justice corners of the internet.
What Does It Mean?
According to Urban Dictionary, a slacktivist is someone who "does simple things like change their avatar colour or post a status update about a cause instead of actively supporting the cause." This entry is most likely referencing the Bra Status Updates debacle of 2010 — according to Know Your Meme, an online survey game encouraged women to update their Facebook statuses with their bra color in an effort to raise breast cancer awareness, because apparently someone thought the two were related? Unfortunately, multiple news outlets found that the status updates had no effect on breast cancer research, and the internet took the opportunity to rail against the ineffectiveness of social media. Everyone also made a lot of boob jokes, because of course they did.
Why Does It Have Such A Negative Connotation?
Believe it or not, slacktivism originally was viewed in a positive light. It referred to young people who didn't participate in big, flashy efforts for social justice, like protests, and chose to perform smaller acts of tangible change. As the rise of social media allowed for people to support causes from the comfort of their home, however, that began to change. Critics claim that the countless petitions circling the internet and changing profile pictures to "support" causes accomplish nothing other than making the user feel better about themselves.Last year, Shonda Rhimes even tackled the subject in her commencement speech to Dartmouth College. According to BuzzFeed, Rhimes said in her speech that "a hashtag is not a movement... It's you, sitting on your butt, typing into a computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show."
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Needless to say, her comments sparked quite a bit of debate online. Some took her side, while others pointed out that national movements can start in all kinds of places. "I think there’s this weird idea that the civil rights movement was just things like speeches, marches, and sit-ins, as if there wasn’t any organization and planning like letter-writing campaigning and sitting down with politicians," activist Mikki Kendall told BuzzFeed. Personally, in my ever-so-scientific opinion, it's a way for "real" activists to look down on people who aren't devoted enough to the cause according to their own arbitrary standards. Basically:
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In fact, a study back in 2011 found that people who use social media to promote causes are actually twice as likely to support those causes both online and offline. Sure, there are people who passively like posts on Facebook and never think about the cause again. On the other hand, slacktivism probably isn't end of activism, politically engaged young people, and civilization as we know it that people make it out to be. Sorry, guys, but you'll have to find your apocalypse elsewhere.
Images: meangirlgifs/Tumblr, Giphy