In today’s digital world, anything we would every need or want to know is at our fingertips, just a scroll or a few clicks away. With all of this information easily on hand, oftentimes, we learn about social justice issues, charities, or causes that we may want to support. From liking posts on Facebook, to tweeting support on Twitter, to making YouTube videos and posting Instagram pictures, people express this support and activism through their personal social media profiles.
This was very much the case when the HeForShe campaign was announced. Emma Watson’s speech was uploaded to YouTube, and soon it spread like wildfire. From thousands of shares on Facebook, to numerous tweets using the hashtag #HeForShe, everyone, everywhere, heard about Emma Watson’s powerful speech and showed their support through social media (Marie Claire).
Although social media has allowed people to become more supportive of charitable causes, there has been some criticism of this type of involvement. People have argued that through social media, “we continuously absorb social justice messages, but we don’t take the time to act upon them” (Seay). This inaction is commonly referred to as “slacktivism”, and also sometimes called “hashtag activism”, “armchair activism”, or “clicktivism” (Robertson & Lee). Slacktivism’s name explains itself, but could use some clarification. The term was coined to refer to those who pledge support online, but don’t show much support through their physical actions. Posting a photo showing support for a charitable campaign like HeForShe requires a very small cost for participants to get involved, thus concluding that it is just a form of slacktivism (Robertson). More formally, slacktivism is defined as “a willingness to perform a relatively costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change” (Kristofferson, White, & Peloza).
What differentiates slacktivists from “true” activists? Laura Seay from The Washington Post says it pretty bluntly by stating that “Slacktivists don’t have to spend a Saturday doing hard labor to build a home or sacrifice a portion of their monthly entertainment budget to a cause. They don’t even have to move from behind the screens of their electronic devices” (Seay).
Several recent charitable and social justice campaigns have been strongly supported by slacktivists, while at the same time gaining some criticism because of that. #BringBackOurGirls began in an effort to find and return 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group (Robertson). People around the world, from the general public to celebrities, showed their support of #BringBackOurGirls via social media, but within weeks, the campaign was largely forgotten (Robertson).
More recently, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been given flack for being just another form of slacktivism. The campaign called for people to donate money to ALS research, or dump a bucket of ice water on their heads. Those who chose the latter filmed the act, then post it online. The campaign did have widespread success, raising $100 million for the ALS Association (Diamond). Compared to the $1.8 million raised the year before, that’s pretty remarkable (Lee). What the campaign has been criticized for and what has caused it to be categorized by some as slacktivism is the lack of knowledge about the disease and the little that was done to educate the public on the importance of donations. In addition to this, some believe that “participants in the challenge completed it for shock-value” (Robertson).
HeForShe has had the same reactions as #BringBackOurGirls and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Many have pledged their support, but other than showing this support online, what else are they going to do to help HeForShe’s mission to achieve gender equality? Although it may be just another case of slacktivism where results and education aren’t achieved, some have found that promoting a cause on social media is as useful has promoting causes offline. A study by Georgetown University “shows that people who promote causes on social media are twice as likely to volunteer their time than someone who doesn’t post about a cause digitally” (Lee).
We’ve seen the support for HeForShe in thousands of pictures, posts, tweets, but when or how will we see the results of this support? How will it be measured? Hopefully updates from UN Women and the HeForShe campaign will gain as much traction as the initial announcement of the campaign, and results will be evident.
Diamond, Dan. “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Has Raised $100 Million — And Counting.” Forbes.com. 29 September 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.
“Emma Watson’s #HeForShe Campaign Gains Hollywood Support.” Marie Claire. 25 September 2014. Web. 26 October. 2014.
Kristofferson, Kirk, Katherine White, and John Peloza. “The Nature of Slacktivism: How the Social Observability of an Initial Act of Token Support Affects Subsequent Prosocial Action. “Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 40, No. 6 (April 2014), pp. 1149-1166.
Lee, Jolie. “What’s the Real Impact of Viral Ice Bucket Challenge?” USA Today. 18 August 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.
Seay, Lauren. “Does Slacktivism Work?” The Washington Post. 12 March 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.
Robertson, Charlotte. “Slacktivism: The Downfall of Millennials.” The Huffington Post. 14 October 2014. Web. 26 October 2014.