The Beauty in the Beast

Happiness across the cultures.

Are you a Slacktivist?

When activism comes too easy, is it effective?

Some of you might be wondering what exactly a slacktivist is. I myself only discovered this term yesterday as I was questioning the Internet world as to why all my Facebook friends had suddenly turned into cartoon characters. The status updates that accompanied the photo change all read; "From now until December 7, change your profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood. The objective of this is not to see any human faces on Facebook but an invasion of memories for the fight against Violence to Children. Remember we were kids too".

What I didn't see coming from the slew of Disney and Looney Tunes characters that began to infiltrate my newsfeed was how exactly changing a picture on the Internet had anything to do with the fight against Violence to Children. There doesn't seem to be any donations being made to organizations that actually work everyday in order to help prevent Violence to Children. Nor did there seem to be any discussion about the issue itself.

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The responses that I received from a Thundercat, Sebastian (from the little mermaid), and Daffy Duck, all indicated that they felt they were part of an awareness raising campaign. Most of these cartoons masquerading as my friends admitted that they didn't really think that they were accomplishing anything, but the trip down memory lane was fun, and essentially did no harm.

At first I was inclined to agree. It really doesn't do any harm to change your photo for a bit of fun. Upon further reflection however I began to believe that it does in fact do harm. And that's where the slacktivism comes into play. Slacktivism is defined on Wikipedia as; " "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts also tend to dilute awareness campaigns and require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist". Essentially this can be anything from participating in an online ‘campaign' to wearing a ribbon in support of the fight against "insert your cause here".

The danger that I believe comes from this type of slacktivism is that it begins to give people the illusion that they are actually helping out the cause. I will be the first to admit that there is no shortage of causes out there, and they are all clamoring to get your valuable donation. It can be overwhelming to the average person, who really wants to help out, but is so inundated with options they become paralyzed. Slackivism eases that burden. You can ‘help' out all the causes with a simple click of a button or a pinning of a ribbon.

What then becomes of the charities and organizations that are actually doing the work in the field? Most of these are clamoring for your funds because they can barely keep themselves afloat. Budgets are consistently strained, and the people that are working within them are just barely making above minimum wage. While the slacktivist campaigns are cute, they no nothing to actually help the issue they are attempting to raise awareness for. I worry that the slackivist will feel satisfied with the effort they have put in, and therefore believe that they have done their part. This ultimately puts organizations that are searching for help in a worse position then they were before.

Even more ironic is the pressure that some people put on others when they choose not to participate. Consider the tongue-lashing I received for not wearing a poppy on Remembrance Day (Canada's version of Veterans Day). The person accusing me of being ungrateful for the sacrifice people made for my freedom admitted that they spent 25 cents on their poppy, and I can assure you they did not give a thought to the veterans after November 12th. What this person failed to recognize was that I choose to donate food to the veterans' food bank monthly, as opposed to wearing a poppy. I feel as though that does far more good than a trite gesture done once a year.

Needless to say my Facebook picture is not of Belle (despite the fact that I love that movie). Now that I know what a slackivist is, I vow that I will never allow myself to become one. Each year I look at what charities and organizations are doing work in areas that I believe in. I will support their efforts in anyway that I can, and hopefully will do my part to affect some positive change. I encourage others to do the same. I honestly believe that these actions will do more than wearing a ribbon, or changing a photo ever will.

So my question to you is: Are you a slackivist?

Jaime Cundy is a writer and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program.

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