While it’s not a new term, a few months ago, “slacktivism” became the topic of a firestorm debate among nonprofit advocates, online marketing professionals and social change proponents after a series of media stories including an article by Warren Clements of Toronto’s Globe and Mail, “A slacktivist and his crackberry are seldom parted.” The fire doesn’t seem to be going out any time soon.
While the definition is its own debate topic, most agree that it is the act of doing something that requires very little effort and has only the perceived effect of impact. Or in the words of Urban Dictionary, “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.”
So do “click actions” like signing a petition and becoming a Facebook fan actually make a difference? We want to get the best and brightest in a room at SXSW and go at it. Help us out and vote for our panel “Can Double-Clicking Change The World? Slacktivism 101″, leave a comment and come to SXSW in March to join the debate with Jacob Colker (Co-Founder and CEO of The Extraordinaries), Premal Shah (President of Kiva) and Jason Cooper (Online Coordinator at Kaboom.org).
And in case you’ve missed the debate, I’ve done some of the reading for you…in the true spirit of slacktivism.
- “For [Jacob] Colker, the idea of spare-moment do-gooding is ‘transformative.’ He takes the long view of short attention spans…it’s sometimes hard for people to find the right organizations to volunteer for, and it can be equally hard for organizations to capitalize on the various skills that volunteers bring to the table… But microvolunteerism, Colker says, ‘is perfectly suited for the Millennial Generation. They are used to text messaging, MySpace, Facebook, get-in, get-out, instant gratification. For them, going out and cleaning up a park — that’s not necessarily attractive to them…’” – Linton Weeks
- “Are the publicity gains gained through this greater reliance on new media worth the organizational losses that traditional activists entities are likely to suffer, as ordinary people would begin to turn away from conventional (and proven) forms of activism (demonstrations, sit-ins, confrontation with police, strategic litigation, etc) and embrace more ’slacktivist’ forms, which may be more secure but whose effectiveness is still largely unproven?” – Evgeny Morozov
- “Sure, each new technology comes with Faustian ambivalence, but even though the Twitter protesters may not have lead to any substantial change (yet), I’d argue that the worldwide attention (and sympathy) for the cause of the Iranian people was significantly enhanced through the hundreds of thousands of Twitterers who used #iranelection (especially given #CNNfail). Was this ad-hoc Twitter community a political movement? Maybe not. But it politicized and generated social power that can instigate political change.” – Tim Leberecht
- “These groups will need help to find ways to break down their efforts into bite-size pieces while maintaining the thread of connection between these immediate actions and their intended longer term results. And it is exactly these results that are at risk within the micro-environment. It is quite possible that we will become frantically busy doing a lot of change stuff that does make the doers feel great (which is important ) but doesn’t add up to the systemic social change needed in communities. Does busy mean the same thing as impact?’ – Allison Fine
- “VolunteerMatch is different from slacktivism services because we’re using technology to help nonprofits and volunteers create enduring relationships based on real-world contributions of time and energy (and often skills as well). Whether these contributions are on-the-ground service roles like working in a soup kitchen or reading, or whether they are “virtual” opportunities like providing Web design or grant writing help from home, the support VolunteerMatch volunteers provide can often be measured in sweat rather than clicks or page views.” – Robert Rosenthal
- “But we have to recognize that just because someone is using social media as a part of their “strategy” does not automatically mean they are using it strategically. There are ways to waste time with campaigns that, in the end, don’t really bring about social change, but there are ways to waste time with direct mail and organizing rallies too. This flaw is not that the tools are ineffective; it’s rather a misuse and missed opportunity by the organization.” – Kristin Ivie
- The recipe for effective slacktivism is embracing technology to attract and organize mass amounts of people combined with an authentic belief on the part of the slacktivist and action sponsor that it will make an impact, add in a dose of creativity and recognize that a click is part of a portfolio of other actions – numbers, stories, face to face meetings, etc. – both offline and online. Ideally a click action is used as an entry point for new supporters, or supplemental, and that most people engage in many forms of action when they care about an issue. – Ali Cherry
Note from Beth: You can vote for more than one panel. So, why not lift the collective voices of nonprofits and leave some votes for these other awesome panels while you are there.
Ali Cherry is the Online Campaigns and Marketing Director at Beaconfire Consulting, where she helps nonprofits grow their supporter networks, enhance engagement and convert donors.