Slacktivism or effective lobby?

Laura Keil
Laura Keil, Publisher & Co-owner

By: Laura Keil

I’m not exactly sure how it started, but I’ve become a regular slacktivist.

Slacktivism usually starts with a single email from one organization. Will you support our petition for this cause? If you do, just fill in your name and address. After, you will feel like a good person. You’ve done something to make the world a better place.

A couple days later, maybe a week, you get another email tailored to your interests based on an elaborate algorithm that had profiled you.

Not only is this next petition tailored to your interests, they have your contact information all filled in. After reading the ‘pitch’ you only have to click once.

The strange thing is the tiny effort involved doesn’t decrease the actual impact of my signature does it? I’m still the same human being I was before. Getting 50,000 signatures for a petition is still impressive.

Sadly, but predictably, I usually don’t do research on these issues before signing them. This is the part that makes me uncomfortable and squarely in the “slacktivist” category. I want to make a difference, but I don’t want it to take a lot of work. If I feel the issue is too complex for me to understand without more research I won’t sign.

This is the universal problem of activism and change of any kind – people may care for a “greater cause” but will they greatly go out of their way to do something? Behaviour shows us that few do.

So, given that humans seldom go out of their way for activism, should we hail internet petitions as being the perfect medium for change? Have we finally found the round peg for the round hole? Or are we satisfying our need to
feel good through ineffective means?

I think the answer lies in what these petitions actually achieve. Once you sign one, you will get updates as to the result of the petition – if an execution was stayed; or a project delayed or cancelled. Many times, it appears that the petition did make a small difference.

We can also see the petitions as more than just petitions – they engage people and spread awareness. Before I sign something I read the pitch containing information about the cause.

As a journalist, who knows there’s more than one side to a story, I’m always careful to read what the petitioners are asking for – is it reasonable? Will it allow due diligence? It is being addressed to the right people?

I think the key is not to let “slacktivism” substitute for real measures of change. For me, at least, it hasn’t lessened other things I would normally – or normally not – do.

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