On Slactivism, Old and New
On a flight back to Beirut yesterday, the captain made an announcement that his flight attendants would be passing UNICEF envelopes to all passengers who would like to donate change (in any currency). I received mine and shoved it immediately into the seat pocket in front of me. A thought came to my mind and I pulled it back out. Browsing through the information on it, I read the same rhetoric about poverty in Africa and saw the same photos of starving but very cute little kids. My donation would contribute to improving their lives, it said. Then there was a good two paragraphs about the admirable philanthropy of the airline.
What the envelope solicited, I thought, was slacktivism, a term more recently made popular in reference to online activism. And while the internet has opened up room for more creative click-of-a-mouse useless action such as liking a YouTube video or signing an e-petition, fact is that slacktivism has existed long before the advent of online technology. And so it is not tied to the internet per se. The internet has not bred a generation of slacktivists. Just like offline feel-good campaigns can be useless, like donating change to starving children or picking up a flier about climate change or wearing a ribbon for breast cancer, equivalent online campaigns can be useless too.
Along the same lines, just like effective offline campaigns can be useful: a successful protest, an informative health brochure, an election drive, online campaigns can mobilize and raise awareness and combat apathy just as effectively. It’s not the medium, it’s the strategy that counts.