On So-Called Slacktivism

Many of my readers have probably heard the term “slacktivism” by now—a term used to characterize “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.”[1] We will probably hear that term even more leading up to elections in November as some of us shame others of us for being “slacktivists.”

That being said, I am going to do something here that may ignite some controversy. I am coming to the defense of so-called slacktivists—some of them.

But why?

The short answer is that there are many people who don’t have the time or ability to do anything more than sign an online petition or do other online activism, and that should be respected instead of degraded.

A longer answer must explore life circumstances that result in someone not being able to do more than what many activists call slacktivism:

  1. Professional responsibilities. I have heard about my fair share of midday rallies and protests (and have even been at a few of them). The only problem is that such rallies can’t be attended even by someone who works a normal 9-5 job, unless that person lives in the area of the rally and is able to take a lunch break during the rally. Evenings and weekends give better access to rallies for regular 9-5 workers, but there are still many people who work weekends and/or evenings instead of, or in addition to, 9-5 work. For people who are at work while rallies and protests happen, the most they can do is what’s labeled as slacktivism, and that should be respected.
  2. Family responsibilities. Parents have to take care of their children and other family. Grownups have to make sure that all the utility bills are paid for their houses, or that rent is paid for their apartments. These responsibilities exist in addition to, not instead of, professional responsibilities. Some rallies have tried to take away the burden of parents taking care of children by including childcare at rallies (though I’m sure some parents would feel uneasy about the thought of leaving their child or children in the hands of complete strangers, and I might feel the same way when/if I become a parent). Once one combines professional responsibilities with family responsibilities, then there may be little time to do more than so-called slacktivism, and that fact shouldn’t be demonized.
  3. Physical limitations. Some people are flat-out physically unable to get to, or participate in, a rally or protest. Back when I had my bad ankle earlier this year, I was one of those people. I know many others who, like me during my bad ankle, would’ve been completely unable to participate in rallies and protests even if we wanted to. Sometimes, slacktivism is the most that some of our bodies can handle.
  4. Emotional limitations. There are some rallies that may be emotionally just too much for people. For example, a rally protesting gun violence may be too much for some family or friends of people who’ve been victimized by gun violence. The emotional limitations that bring people towards slacktivism, and away from what many activists view as activism, should be respected.

I acknowledge that there are, no doubt, many people who are capable of more than the signing of online petitions and involvement of online movements that is often associated with slacktivism. Such people who are capable of higher levels of involvement should be more involved. However, I hope that my list brings to mind the fact that there are probably millions of people in the United States who are unable to do anything more than what is labeled as slacktivism. Those people should not be demonized for what they’re unable to do, but thanked for what they are able to do.


[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/slacktivism

14 Replies to “On So-Called Slacktivism”

  1. Kills me to admit it, but I am a so-called slacktivist. I sign all sorts of petitions on line from pro LGBTQ right to save some endangered species of sloth,

    But it is what is within my abilities right now. I’d love to be on the front lines and making my voice heard but mentally…I am about to explode or implode due to my conditions so this is what I have to offer, take it or leave it or tell me I suck.

    Maybe if you stuck sloth faces onto politicians I’d throw caution to the wind and forget my kid needs food and heat..Nah. Sloths don’t have the sleazebone gene.

    I will just have to own being a political slacker no matter how strong my opinions and convictions are.

    I feel it, I believe it, I live it….But much like I can’t go to a much loved but heavily avoided Slipknot crowd…I can’t be *there* now. No less my convictions or fandom or strength of belief.

    Thanks for speaking up for those who are…well, not able to speak as loudly for themselves.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The reason I use the phrase “so-called slacktivist” is because of exactly what you said: you are doing what is within your abilities. Someone who is doing the most within their abilities, as you are, is not slacking, even though some may suggest otherwise. I would urge you to not be too hard on yourself because you are doing the most you can, from my understanding. There is no shame in doing the most you can, even if that includes signing petitions (which oddly gets shamed itself, even though there have been times when a petition worked).

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Well said. I agree. As you say we can’t expect everyone to be able to do everything. We all have a part to play and I am happy with people doing what they can. That will make the difference if everyone just does what they can do to help. Hugs

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly. We can’t expect people to do everything, as you said. Nobody can do everything but everyone can do something. Everyone can use their talents as much as they can to help as much as they can. And really…that’s all one could ask. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Brendan, by definition I am a slacktivist. Another reason that ties in with the ones you listed for being a slacktivist is the discomfort of the environment. I live in an area where my color is not respected. Having gone to rallies, protested in the past and being the only black person I feel out of place. I feel uncomfortable as if I am supporting the people who would do the most harm to me. Whether it’s healthcare for children, mental illness or people with disabilities, I feel I don’t belong. Many in the crowd don’t respect people like me. So why should I take the time to subject myself to feel like a third class citizen? I am more appreciated and respected online. Nowadays, I trash all local public invitations.

    With that said, I have traveled out of state to support causes. For example, I would never attend a Black Lives Matter rally in NH, but I would travel to Chicago or NYC to support them if needed. I have learned to be very selective in how and where I donate my time and money.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s another good reason.

      A few of my friends who are people of color eloquently raised points about discomfort with the environment when explaining why they didn’t feel comfortable going to the Women’s March in 2017. They cited similar points to what you cite; namely, their feeling like the Women’s March was really a white women’s march, and that women of color were an afterthought at best (and that a woman of color would feel out-of-place at such a march, at worst).

      Some ended up being satisfied with how the Women’s March addressed that criticism, while others were not. Regardless, I think the issues raised about the Women’s March serves as a microcosm of the discomfort of the environment, if I’m understanding you correctly.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Brendan the Women’s March is a perfect example of feeling discomfort with the environment. I never considered participating and probably will never participate in such a march for that reason.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Good post – I think point #4 resonates with a lot of people, and me too.
    I think it’s also good to use our strengths. I have an education in science and can write reasonably well, so I think that writing well-reasoned posts online is one of the best ways to contribute. So I focus on that, and minimizing the impact of my lifestyle by making conscious decisions as much as possible. I’m not so good at dealing with emotional crowds, so that route is not as attractive to me. And personally, I feel that we spend enough time shouting at each other – why should that be considered a more worthy form of activism over lifestyle choices and intelligent discourse?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Those are all good points.

      We do need people with different talents! If we had a million people shouting in marches but have no writers, we are limited. If we have a million writers but no artists, we are limited. Activism is often viewed as this thing where you shout on the streets, and if you don’t do that you are doing something wrong.

      You don’t like emotional crowds? That’s better than what I can say, because I just plain old don’t like crowds. I am best at one-on-one and I become more awkward the larger a crowd gets.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 100% with you on needing the multiple voices from writers, artists, activists,etc…But my one big phobia is crowds. I get frightened, I start to lash out like a caged animal, and no amount of logic imposed by others or myself seems to lessen that volatile reaction.

        One on one, I am more effective and lucid. It may not make the world change, but it’s a sincere contribution based on “hey ,i give a damn.”

        Liked by 2 people

      2. One-on-one is underrated though, and could cause change in one person, which causes change in 10 people.

        Your phobia with crowds also really shows the importance of self-care in activism. It is important to take care of yourself, not just others.

        Like

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