This is the post Sava had requested in lieu of my absence on 2/21.
Sava had asked me to write a little post about civic/ political engagement and social media, mostly focusing on slacktivism. Slacktivism, for those who are not familiar with this term, is this idea that minimal effort promotion of social justice causes is in fact activism. This is a term often frequented when describing when people on Facebook decide to all change their photos to the red equality symbol in favor of marriage equality. Or a yet familiar act of slacktivism is signing a petition on Change.org. You can read more about the initiative introduced by the Human Rights Campaign here.
There has been a lot of discussion of what slacktivism really does mean. The Huffington Post had an article posted last winter about slacktivism. It pointed out the obvious, decreased “real” acts of activism, as well as the less apparent underlying behaviors that are produced via slacktivism. Some scholars have studied the use of technology as political participation (See an example here).
I have always wondered about these little actions that are usually well-intended. Personally, I think it has gotten somewhat a bad rap, even though as a person who has been involved in marriage equality rallies, marches and joined in Equality Rides as acts of social justice and civic participation, I still find that in exposing individuals to various view points, gaging and mobilizing support for a particular issue that technology, and especially social media, has been so powerful. Just think about the viral video from the 2008 election. I do not think that doing these smaller acts are enough to create drastic social reform, but it definitely is a real way to, now intuitive way, to try to attempt to spread the word about particular issues and challenge preconceived notions. More than likely it will provide a way to ignite curiosity. Think about how many times you have ready or seen something on Twitter or Reddit and were not sure exactly what it was or about. You probably went right away to google (or your preferred search engine) to get a brief summary from Wikipedia, right? You automatically used technology to learn.
Another editorial aside, I have a few ideas about why such slacktivism has occurred and why this particular generation has been increasingly berated for it. Strapped for time and cash, the average college graduate comes out of college with ~ $26,000 of debt according to a an article by the Guardian last August. That is huge! And completely sobering to think about. It’s no wonder why this generation has a) little to no cash to spare for political campaign and charitable contribution and b) no time to be completely involved and activists. It takes a sincere dedication to fight for a cause. And honestly I think that we do live in a generation that does want to do more, but are fighting to find ways to make things happen because the conventional means and opportunities are simply not currently available. I worked 4 jobs in undergrad to pay my way through school and am still in severe debt. We are not like the generation before us who only came out with school debt that amounted to maybe a few thousand dollars at most that they could pay off in their first year of work. That just is not quite true for the majority these days. So if I can click a button on the computer that will help me a) educate myself about issues and b) express my support in some manner for an issue for the time being until I can donate my time and money, I surely will do that.
Sorry for the bit of a rant…. I have been deeply involved in a number of ways trying to understand how social media has transformed, for better and for worse, the face of activism, especially for the up and coming generation that we find ourselves included. For more thoughts on the weird relationship of our generation and technology, I highly recommend reading Generation on a Tightrope.