Social media activism brings awareness about topics to a huge audience. But the big question is, does it bring about meaningful change or does it just lead to Slacktivism? Slacktivism is “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
Slacktivism is a problem for social media activism, but if a campaign goes viral on social media it can have a positive effect and make a difference. People that would never have been exposed to a topic are suddenly seeing posts and learning about a movement. Three examples of social media movements that have had a serious impact are the ALS Challenge, #BlackLivesMatter, and #MeToo.
The ALS Challenge involved filming yourself while you pledged to donate money to ALS, nominating other people for the challenge and then pouring a bucket of ice-cold water over your head. This is probably one of the most successful social media campaigns ever! The challenge spread very quickly through social media and it raised $115 million for ALS! It increased awareness about ALS, but it also saw lots of people participating that just wanted to be a part of something that was trending. It is doubtful that everyone who participated donated or cared about the cause.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a movement that is raising awareness about police brutality and killings of black people in the United States. They want people to recognize the inequalities of how people are treated by police, depending on their race. “BLM regularly holds protests speaking out against police killings of black people, and broader issues such as racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system.“2 The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began to trend in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of the unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin.
Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement, she is a civil rights activist who created the hashtag in 2006 to address the fact that a large number of women have been sexually harassed or assaulted in their lifetime, but most don’t report the assault or share their stories
But it wasn’t until the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the hashtag, and it began being used in reference to the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations, that the movement really took off.3
This movement has started tough conversations around sexual assault and harassment. Even though it has raised awareness around sexual harassment in the workforce it has also led to backlash. According to the article, Me Too Backlash Is Getting Worse, “Some men also like to claim that women are fabricating claims. Those fears are largely unfounded… the same myth surrounds sexual assault. False accusations make up a very low percentage of reported rapes.” This has led to men feeling uncomfortable working one-on-one with women and therefore excluding them from meetings and social interactions.
Another negative aspect of social media activism is the call-out or cancellation culture. The call-out culture is the act of publically calling out or shaming someone on social media for perceived wrongs. This then leads for calls of boycotting either people or companies and that is the cancel culture. One of the worst aspects of call-out/ cancel culture is that it prevents conversations from happening. If someone’s views are considered offensive and boycotts are called for, this prevents further discussions from happening.4 When maybe the solution would be to have a dialogue, to see and learn from each others point of view. This trend began in 2015, but it really started to take off in 2018. Some notable instances of cancellation are when Roseanne Barr was fired from Roseanne after she tweeted racist comments, James Gunn was fired from directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 when inappropriate jokes he tweeted in 2008 and 2012 resurfaced, and Kevin Hart was fired from hosting the Oscars when old homophobic tweets were uncovered.
Even though there are some negative aspects to social media activism, I agree with what Alex Guardado says in Hashtag Activism: The Benefits and Limitations of #Activism. Guardado says that hashtag activism can bring about change, but it is gradual. It is easy for people to share or like a post, and even easier for Slacktivism to occur and for nothing to actually change. The good thing is that people are much more informed and it is easier to organize movements because of the large audience a movement has access too through social media.
People use social media every day and spend a significant amount of time on it. It would be foolish to not try to harness that time spent to bring awareness towards something important. Even if it just starts a conversation, that is better than nothing. Change definitely won’t take place if people aren’t aware there is a problem.
- Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/slacktivism?s=t
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement
- Cross Country Checkup (2019, Nov 3). When it comes to boycotting opinions, ‘cancel culture’ is preventing dialogue from occurring: psychologist. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/checkup/has-cancel-culture-gone-too-far-1.5344590/when-it-comes-to-boycotting-opinions-cancel-culture-is-preventing-dialogue-from-occurring-expert-says-1.5345798