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Social media and slacktivism

By John Mason - posted Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Social media has allowed us to be more informed – and more outraged – but is the indignation genuine, or are we merely feeding a selfish agenda?

The term ‘Slactivism’ has been coined to describe the perceived faux concern displayed by members of the community around important issues – generally on social media. The problem with this label is that it’s assuming peoples concern is invalid simply because it may not translate into tangible, meaningful change - but change doesn’t always happen on that level.

The nature of why we voice our disapproval hasn’t changed. Simply, if we are confronted with something that does not align with our sense of morality, we feel the need to speak out. What has changed is in the past you may have only discussed this with your immediate circle – friends, family, and colleagues. Now there is an entire world in which to voice your disapproval, although it’s more likely to be lost in the tide of impassioned pleas than influence people in your immediate circle.


It’s akin to standing on a busy street and screaming your disapproval to the masses – they will acknowledge your presence, but you can’t enact global change just by shaking your proverbial fist at the sky. Unless you provide an outlet to make change, change won’t happen, regardless of how many disgruntled patrons of injustice join you on that solitary street corner.  

Perhaps the term ‘incomplete activism’ is more accurate, although not quite as pithy.

Social media has become an arena to express our social conscience, begun to permeate the real world and make real change. Take the online campaigns directed at kicking out self-proclaimed ‘pick-up artist’ Julien Blanc from Australia and the cancellation of US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny’s shows in Melbourne and Sydney as proof that online activism can and does translate into meaningful action. The reason these were so effective is they were aimed at making a change in our own backyard – booting out a chauvinist and shutting down an anti-vaxxer can be surprisingly easy when they are on your home turf and magnetizing the moral compass of millions of people.

On a global scale, it is far less effective. It’s unlikely the calls of protest from Australian citizens regarding the executions of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were ever going to make a real difference. It tried – but the boycott Bali movement was dead and buried before it even began. The calls for compassion were in vain - the decision to execute these men was never going to be swayed by any amount of social media activism. It can certainly influence a river cruise operator on the banks of the Yarra to deny Mr. Blanc a ride, but it doesn’t have the capacity to influence international law and politics.

It’s detrimental to be so dismissive and critical of what is essentially a new brand of activism. It has the potential to be just as meaningful and effective in creating change, albeit in a different way. It also has the added benefit of permanence – musings of injustice will exist in the virtual world long after the streets have been cleared of physical protestors. By labelling those that take to social media to voice their opposition as Slactivists, you risk trivialising their compassion and questioning their motives. We should congratulate people on taking the first step, not condemning them for perceivably not doing enough.

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About the Author

John Mason is a freelance writer based in Melbourne specialising in crime and politics.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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