Affordances of social media has led to the manifestation of a new form of activism in the political sphere – Slacktivism, and it’s cousin, hashtag activism.
Image 1: Slacktivism: Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause, requiring little time or involvement
Image 2: Hashtag activism, where actions take place in cyberspace rather than in the offline world.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement started in the USA in 2013 after an African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin was unjustly gunned down. The hashtag has since been appropriated to tag political viewpoints for the rights of African-Americans.
Critics of slacktivism argue that tweets or Facebook posts with the hashtag does not equate to physically doing something about the issue. Instead, it only seems to exist on the basis of feeding and soothing the egos of self-righteous yet uninitiated cyber-activists. In fact, this may merely just be a form of catharsis. Sure, slacktivism does lead to the expression of political and social views, generating conversation, but we all know that talk is cheap and empty vessels make the most noise. This is detrimental to such causes where action is necessary to enact change.
However, to merely dismiss slacktivism in #BlackLivesMatter would be to ignore that it has led to discussions on the rights of African-Americans that were previously not existent. This could very well be the spark that develops online participation and encourage cyber-activists to involve themselves in offline activities.
Image 3: Committed actors can still make use of social media to have meaningful conversations, persuade and mobilise action in the offline world.
Like every other technological advancement, social media has facilitated something that was not possible before. Ultimately, whether social media has had a positive or negative impact on encouraging political and social action is up for debate. Social media does allow one to feel as if standing for a cause without having to put in physical effort through slacktivism, but it should not be discounted because of its potential to spur action through meaningful conversations. As with other forms of technology, what matters most is how we make use of it.