Five Habits of Highly Ineffective Slacktivists

Jason Russell’s Kony 2012 video, which aimed to focus the world’s attention on Joseph Kony, a Ugandan guerrilla leader and his horrific actions, has raised awareness of another topic as well: slacktivism. While Russell’s role in creating the video and co-founding Invisible Children, Inc. puts him definitively in the “activist” category, the video spread due to the tireless work of slacktivists, the fearless masses who went so far as to watch the first five minutes, jump ahead a little bit, jump ahead again, realize the video is thirty minutes long, give up and Google Kony, read two sentences of that and then click “share” on Facebook.

That was exhausting.

Now TMZ has gotten their hands on a different short film in which Jason Russell has a very public and very naked meltdown, which is raising awareness of the immense stress that goes along with actually doing something. Just another reason why slacktivism is looking like a better and better alternative to activism.

Slacktivism, as you can see by my blogger name, is near and dear to my heart. I write about a lot of different topics on this blog, but I’m careful to never take real action to solve them. After all, if I actually fixed the problem of people misusing common expressions, what would I use to feel superior to others? But even though I pride myself on my own dedicated breed of slacktivism, social media has bred a new, even lazier form. Facebook and Twitter have made it possible to feel good about one’s self for doing nothing more than clicking a button, sharing a link or copying and pasting. These slacktivists are the true heroes, so here are a few lessons they can teach us.

5. Make it your mission to raise awareness of something that everyone already knows about.

And be deliberately confusing about it.

One of the key aspects of slacktivism is the minimal effort involved, so even if the end goal is to raise awareness of a topic, it’s way easier to choose a common problem that doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Raising awareness of a topic that actually needs it – like Joseph Kony’s war crimes – requires a lot more research, and then putting actual time and money towards a video that will teach others about the issue. Better to go with something like breast cancer – no explanation necessary, and really nothing more for you to understand than “it’s bad.”

Now, of course, breast cancer is a deadly disease for many women, and there are steps that people can take to help end it – like donating money or working for health care reform. But your job is just to raise awareness. And look at that, you’ve succeeded.

4. Always use pronouns like “we” or “someone.”

And calls to action like "do something" or "like this."

This is actually an old-school form of slacktivism that, for me at least, goes back to my first McJob. There, a fellow McDonald’s employee would often point out how disgusting the lobby or bathrooms were with comments like, “We really need to clean that,” or “Ew, the burger on that table is starting to sprout stuff. Someone should throw it away.” It’s a tried-and-true method of recognizing a problem, recognizing a solution, vocalizing both, and then getting back to business as usual, which in this case was typically seeing how many times a french fry could go through the fryer before it basically disappeared. Then, hours later, the McSlacktivist would say it again, but this time annoyed that “we” or “someone” had not actually thrown that burger away, and now it was starting to blossom.

This is even more futile on Facebook and Twitter, where you are speaking to 400 of your closest almost-strangers, most of whom are ignoring you, as though you are all in this together. Because, as my days in fast food taught me, if everyone is responsible for something, then no one is. That’s why that policy of “everyone is in charge of keeping this McDonald’s clean” resulted in so much fungal growth.

3. Do as little as possible, and ask others to do the same.

For people who care enough to press Ctrl+V.

I like to think that if you care enough about an issue, you would at least want to write something personal about it – even if your only goal is to raise awareness. But to be a true slacktivist, one must believe that they are doing good by doing barely anything, so the copying and pasting of a prepared, vapid rant that takes certain liberties with statistics puts them squarely amongst the few who care.

Another thing missing from slacktivists’ desperate cries are any call to action that would have an effect in the real world. Petitions, solicitations for donations, contacting government representatives or boycotts are all asking too much from people for your message to spread quickly. Besides, what are you, some kind of do-gooder? No, you are a feel-gooder, and as a feel-gooder, you just need to see as many people like and share your status as possible. Then everyone will feel good. Well, except the people with breast cancer.

2. Defend your actions as “better than nothing.”

Key word here being "something."

It is easy to criticize. But it’s also easy to change one’s profile picture. So this argument is a wash. The question, of course, is whether saying that you’re doing something in support of a cause will actually do anything to support that cause. If I eat a banana every day to put an end to bullying, am I really involved in the fight against bullying, or am I just ingesting a lot of potassium and feeling good about myself for doing so? Here lies the beauty of slacktivism: it doesn’t matter. As a true slacktivist, one need not worry about the actual, real-world results. Only the feeling that one gets from taking a small, inconsequential and often totally unrelated step in the name of getting those results.

1. Feel good about yourself. You just changed the world.

"We did it, everyone! We watched a video!"

The success of the Kony video, which really has been viewed an astounding 80 million times online, is causing a lot of attention around slacktivism and how effective it can be. But…Joseph Kony is still the head of the LRA, and he’s still committing war crimes. And since he’s actually already been indicted on those war crimes, and has been on the World’s Most Wanted list since 2010, and has been the target of Ugandan assassination attempts, aided by U.S. military counsel, it’s not like the world’s leaders weren’t aware of his actions. So to call the social media wave effective is honestly confusing that word with impressive. It is impressive that so many people watched that video and learned about this terrible thing and wanted to tell others about that thing. But now that everyone is aware, that’s where the real work comes in. That’s where money and time and actual effort all come into play.

Luckily, for us hard-working slacktivists, our job is done. But yeah, someone should really do all that.

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