A Bit On Slacktivism

Running rampant through the world of social media this past week has been a 30-minute documentary developed by a group called Invisible Children. Their purpose, as they state it, is to capture Ugandan war lord Joseph Kony by December 2012. Given that many feel the “sweet spot” length for an online video is no more than 2 minutes, the fact that a 30-minute video went viral across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter is pretty amazing. However, shortly after the video began to spread, questions began to arise about Invisible Children. Were they keeping over 30% of the money they were raising? Are they supporting organizations that may be just as bad as Kony? Are they putting Ugandan citizens even more at risk?

In doing some research about this I found an article from Mashable asking if the whole thing was a hoax. The article said this may be the latest example of slacktivism. As it turns out, a lot of people really don’t like the idea of “slacktivism,” or the concept that “liking” or “retweeting” something is a form of activism. So, let’s talk about this a bit in detail.

Of marketing myths and activist legends

If you read my blog posts on occasion, you know that one of my great concerns is that businesses are being misled as we plod through the 21st century. Companies are being told that “engaging” online is enough to grow their businesses, and they are also being told that there is no way to measure the impact of their social media marketing. “Try to tell me what the ROI is of your mother,” they are told.

Of course, this is inaccurate. Companies need to make money still. And of course, there *are* ways to measure your social media marketing.  You can measure how much time (and hence how much money) you are investing, and you can measure what you get back. That’s ROI in a nutshell. If you are putting a ton of time in and not making any sales, well, that’s going to be a big problem in short order.

I worry that this same sort of mind-block is invading the world of social good. Now, the term “slacktivism” seems pretty harsh. And hey, I believe in online serendipity. I believe that if you can get the right information to just the right person, amazing things can happen. So if you change your avatar purple and someone asks you why you did that, you have a chance to explain it’s for yada yada cause, and maybe that person has just what that organization needs to really jump forward. Social Media makes these types of things possible. But not all of the time. And for some causes, serendipity is too fluffy and it takes too long.

Now, here’s the disconcerting part. If we keep traveling down this path of “raising awareness,” which is very much like the “engagement” that businesses are taught about in the online world, we are going to forget about what these organizations need RIGHT NOW. They need money. They need volunteers. Some need blood or organ donations. Some need blankets and canned goods. Some need people who can dig for water in local villages. It’s really dangerously easy to forget about these things as you immerse yourself in the world of social media, just like it’s really easy to forget that what your business needs is sales, not friends.

Isn’t it easy to think to yourself, “Phew, I shared that video. That’s my good deed for the day!” Of course it is. Isn’t it easy to think, “Well, I “liked” that cause on Facebook and I was the 100th person. So that’s great. They’re on their way.” Of course it is. But just like businesses are in danger of going broke without even noticing it, we are at risk of becoming lazy when it comes to doing social good. I don’t think we’re there yet, but the seeds have been planted. The best of intentions in the world of social media can slowly mold into a sort of hypnotized “Friends and contacts are all I need” mentality. This could mean tremendous problems for all levels of our society, from the individual to the business to the social good campaign.

Back to Kony

So what do we make of the Kony 2012 campaign? Is it good that we are talking about Uganda, a country where children have been raped and abused en masse for years? Sure. Is it good that we are talking about Ugandan citizens and what they are facing? Yes. Is it good that the video went viral? Could be. It’s interesting at any rate.

But is this enough to disprove slacktivism? I’m not sure. How many people shared the video without watching the whole thing? How many people donated based only on the video without doing further research?

Social Media makes it so easy. So easy to feel successful. So easy to feel that you’ve accomplished your business or societal goals for the day or the week. This might be the greatest danger of social media. A lot of voices make a loud roar, but a lot of people only yelling just creates noise.

What do you think about all of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/advocacy_project/518031316/ via Creative Commons


Margie, every point you made is fair and true. it is EXTREMELY frustrating to hear the "noise" which in my mind equates to the static on the radio when you're driving between cities. You know what I'm talking about. That 15 minutes between two metro areas when NO stations actually tune in... And to your ending question, I have to apply the same logic that small-town radio DJs do: someone out there is listening, someone is depending on these words, someone is being moved to action. no - it doesn't create a tsunami wave of support, or an outcry of willing able bodies ready to fling themselves into the cause, but beyond creating wealth for our nations private enterprises by working every day to pay for our creature comforts, such as.....electricity provided by private enterprise and the clean water provided our local, state & federal governments....all most of us can do is contribute to a unified demand on our governments to address this thing we just saw on the internet that makes us very unsettled.It's a harsh yet practical yet cowardly yet brave truth of life in the united states. We are cumulatively wealthy, but only because we individually submit to our capitalist routines. 

margieclayman moderator

 @OneJillian Boy, that's a lot of meat, Jillian. Sounds like you have a blog post in YOU on this!


It's true though. There are a lot of obstacles, perversely enough, in the way of doing good. It doesn't seem like it should be that way. It seems like doing good should be as easy as clicking a button or sharing a status update. That's just now how improvements happen though, ultimately. Sharing online is like spreading the soil. Maybe planting some seeds. But the hard work begins after all of that is done. 

Martina McGowan
Martina McGowan

Good post Margie, and once again you have expanded my vocabulary.


As KatCaverly said, its an easy way to feel that you are making a contribution, and they don't even have to send real money. Most people don't want to take the time to donaste blood. Most people don't really want to go to third world countries and dig wells. Hell, most people don't even want to take the old clothes and blankets they are going to donate to the cleaners before passing them on.


Actually, physically getting involved in causes is hard. It can take time, money, sometimes travel, occasionally screwing up your own plans. But eventually we must do something if our intent is to be an activist for social good.


Our retweeting, liking and re-posting may get the message to the right person, and that is an important step. But there also have to be more posts like yours, more remonders that get us to look beyond our computer screens and actually do something for someone else.





margieclayman moderator

 @Martina McGowan  Thanks Martina. It's definitely a nuanced argument. We don't want to say that sharing stuff online is bad. I think that it's really important, actually. There's just more to be done. We can't afford to rest on our online laurels :)