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One day, hopefully a long, long time from now, I will die, and when I do, I would like my death to be Twibbon-free.  I would like your Twitter profile to remain whatever colour it is now.  I have fewer feelings about requests on your Facebook status updates.  Though I’d be thrilled if someone started something akin to what Msfitzita does every year asking people to do acts of kindness in memory of her son, Thomas.

Despite my last two posts and what I just said above, I don’t really have a problem with social media memes.  I had a problem with the fake pregnancy one because it had the potential to affect my friendship when I believed that my friend had kept her pregnancy news from me.  Plus, it was cryptic, doing nothing to actually educate people on the cause it purported supporting. (Quick, tell me three things you learned about breast cancer due to that meme.)

The reality is that my eye passes right over the Twibbons and Twitter profile colours and Facebook status updates because they’re usually not asking anything of me beyond two seconds of my attention.  So it’s not that I’m ignoring them; it’s just that no one asked me to do anything therefore, I do nothing.

People skirted around the term in the comment section, but the urban dictionary word for this sort of thing is “slacktavism.”  I’ve pretty much only heard it applied to online activities, and Wikipedia describes it as:

The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist.


I feel like writing is the most powerful tool I personally have at my disposal and my medium of choice is the Internet.  Is writing about social causes such as… let’s say… infertility without a clear call to action essentially “slacktavism?”  Am I a slacktavist?  Is it only activism if you’re moving towards a goal (for instance, insurance coverage for fertility treatments) vs. doing something more touchy-feeling and amorphous such as discussing how infertility makes me feel (and perhaps, in doing so, providing another person an outlet for processing their feelings)?  If you don’t feel good from it, is it not slacktavism?

And I guess that’s what I want to talk about: is there anything wrong with slacktavism?  Is something better than nothing?  Without the ability to chart the far-reaching affects of someone’s slacktavism (Wikipedia’s “practical effect”) and because it could possibly lead to activism, is it good to do something on the off-chance that it could indirectly lead to change?  Why do we put more emphasis on tangible support such as money vs. the emotional support that can come from community building such as seeing people you care about express their feelings on an issue?  If some people are emotionally hurt while other people are helped, is it worth it?  Do badges and Twibbons do anything beyond state where we stand on a subject?  Do we expect them (or need them) to do more than that?

Crap that’s a lot of questions.

I don’t have clear answers to those questions; I guess I wanted your thoughts.  And I think we need to separate out statement-based online projects from action-based online projects.  A statement-based online project would be something like the fake pregnancy meme.  An action-based online project would be something more akin to the status updates that came out of this such as Elphaba’s or Keiko’s.  They took a stand and then took it further, telling the reader what they can do in order to lend support.

I think the Internet is an amazing tool that has a bad rap.  Because people misuse it — just as people misuse any tool — other people see it only through that lens.  I take issue with the idea that online activities are “lazy” (as opposed to physical protests such as sit-ins or picketing) because we have actually seen social media change the world.  Online does not equal unproductive: there is plenty that is being organized, disseminated, and discussed online in a very active way that is provoking change.  It’s not the medium that is the problem; it’s the project itself.

So no Twibbons for me, though I can understand (and respect) why others do it.  Though, really, in the event of my death, no Twibbons.  Organize a massive comment-spree, hold a yearly Day of Comfort, create an email forward of people writing each other kind words done in my name.  You don’t even need to wait for my death to do so.

But no Twibbons.

What are your thoughts on my questions?


1 Rachel { 09.06.11 at 12:53 pm }

My issue is the same as yours: what came out of the whole “faking you are pregnant to bring about breast cancer advocacy?” I posted the same thing on my FB, and my friend (who, oddly enough, has dealt with infertility) wrote that she thought I was wrong, that this meme did something to bring people out, and to talk about breast cancer. My thing is this: mammograms weren’t mentioned in the “private” email amongst women. Nor were any facts, or tips. So that’s my issue. When the Arab countries were revolting, slackivism helped a bit in that many of today’s youth had no idea what was even going on there. But breast cancer needs more than slackivism. Much much more.

2 Kate { 09.06.11 at 1:08 pm }

I don’t consider composing thoughtful and well written blog posts to be in any way slacktivism. 🙂 For me, the term primarily refers to all those vapid feel-good copy & paste memes and online petitions that really do nothing to raise awareness, change minds, or affect policy.

3 Sushigirl { 09.06.11 at 1:12 pm }

I think that internet activism has a place. And it’s usually as part of a wider campaign, when it can be used to inform or mobilise people, or encourage them to donate or vote take other action.

But if it’s just joining a group on Facebook to rant about how terrible x, y or z is, or using of those bloody twibbons, then there’s not an awful lot of point really.

It might make people feel all warm inside by joining a “stop killing the cute fluffy endangered animals” group. But unless the group is a tool to encourage them to lobby, or donate, or get them and their friends to be more picky about what they buy, then it’s not a lot of point.

I was going to mention Arab Spring but Rachel beat me to it. If the youth of Egypt or Tunisia or whatever had just stuck with going on Twitter and having a rant, then they would have been shut down pretty quickly. But they used social networking as a means to an end, and it proved to be a powerful tool.

4 Kim { 09.06.11 at 1:27 pm }

I think building awareness of any type of a suffering is always a good thing. The more people know about a particular thing, the better they can react when it affects them or someone they know, as all things generally, eventually do. That being said: Slactavism is bullshit. In that, it generally builds no further understanding or spread of actual information. Additionally, it allows people the false sense that they have DONE something. Causes need more than this. I am not talking about money. You can post a link, call your local chapter of OMGthatsterrible and ask what you can do in however much time free time you may have, or simply read on the subject briefly so that you can spread the word to others when the subject comes up in conversation. Yes, I am a little cranky, apologies.

5 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.06.11 at 2:20 pm }

*sheepishly puts away half-developed Mel twibbon*

To me, slacktavism is white noise. Personally I’d rather save my attention for something substantial.

6 Mel { 09.06.11 at 2:21 pm }

Fine, fine, I’ll take a Twibbon, but it better be orange!

7 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.06.11 at 2:26 pm }

Of course it was orange!


8 Chickenpig { 09.06.11 at 2:58 pm }

Ummm…What’s a twibbon?

I think the internet, sites like yours in particular, are forces for change. I consider them the equivalent of salons in 18th century France which started a Revolution, two if you count the effect they had on the beginning of our country. Also the parlors of homes all over our country in the 19th century that had such a huge part in tearing down slavery. For every movement there are those who think, plan, and use the power of the pen and those that take up arms to fight, or go to the battlefield to help the wounded after the fact. You do an incredible amount of good just hosting all of us here, where information and ideas can grow.

9 HereWeGoAJen { 09.06.11 at 3:10 pm }

My problem with slackivism and all these Facebook and Twitter things is that they provide clutter. If my feed fills up with things like “repost this” or those twitter ribbons (hate those), I ignore them all. I think they trivialize and desensitize us to the real issues.

10 loribeth { 09.06.11 at 3:51 pm }

Not being on Twitter, I’m not quite sure what a “Twibbon” is either, but I agree with the previous comments, especially Jen’s about “clutter.” Dumb FB games/status updates like the recent “xx weeks & craving” example aside, I don’t suppose there’s any harm in most of these things, but I’m not sure how much real good they do either, if they don’t tell you something you didn’t already know or prompt you to actually do something besides “copy & repost.” Once in a great while, I’ll learn something new about a friend through one of those memes — what she supports & maybe even why, if she adds a few words beyond the standard — but it’s rare.

11 k { 09.06.11 at 4:09 pm }

I agree, most slacktivism type social media stuff flies right by me because they don’t require anyone to DO anything.

I don’t remember who said it, but I came across a blog that said something to the effect of “is breast cancer a cause we are starving for information on?” The idea being that breast cancer is an easy target for this stuff because everybody knows about it. It’s also highly funded and very commercialized. Where are the social media memes about infertility, prostate cancer, juvenile diabetes, etc… It’s super easy to be “slactivist” about causes where a whole bunch of other people are already doing the hard, real work. And the truth of the matter is, despite how much we say this meme does nothing for the cause, it DID cause many to come out in protest and post ACTUAL statistics, tips, etc… So it unfortunately had a positive effect, if only by guilt by association.

I’ve learned, unfortunately, that with many things that upset me and make me spew forth words are things so many care nothing about. I’ll still write, and post, and hope, but stuff like this just goes to show that the big diseases, the big issues, are the ones people gravitate to because it’s easy to and requires very little of them.

12 a { 09.06.11 at 4:19 pm }

I don’t really burn for any causes, so if I do anything at all I would totally call it slacktivism. I know I’m not doing anything beyond passing along information. That is at least somewhat useful. So I wouldn’t call slacktivism a pejorative term.

I would call Wikipedia’s version something more like inactivism – because it’s just a sham and no one is actually doing anything. That’s how I see the FB meme thing – it doesn’t do anything other than exclude those who are not in the know. At least if you put up a ribbon or join a group, people can usually find out very easily what you’re talking about. So, for me, Slacktivism = OK, posting obscure references that have nothing direct to say about the topic = inactivism = not useful.

13 April { 09.06.11 at 5:01 pm }

Slacktivism is just like anything else you can ask that question of. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, of course there’s the potential for a small number of people to hurt or offend or otherwise upset a larger number of people, and that’s gonna backfire. I believe something is better than nothing. If a thousand people see my twibbon (yup, got one on my fb and twitter pics, sorry guys), and just one says ‘hey, what’s that thing?’ and goes on to learn more and use that knowledge to anyone’s benefit, then it’s worth it to me and to the person it helped. I’m not gonna say let’s throw em up everywhere, and I personally wouldn’t have a twibbon for something I wasn’t involved or vested in, but they do have a place, a small, unobtrusive, but possibly beneficial place. I look at it like this. Someone may not care or be interested enough to read what I have to say about infertility, but they could ask about that little squiggle, so there’s my foot in the door. It’s the possibility of a huge return on barely any of my time and energy, and that’s good enough for me.

And the whole ‘throw money at it and it’ll go away’ thing is waaay to pervasive. I think it takes something like infertility or cancer for a lot of people to lose that mentality, especially with celebrities popping the kids out way late in life. Even with personal experiences of that severity it’s hard not to think ‘if I just had more money we could beat this.’ I know this is going to sound awfully pessimistic here, but I feel that a lot of people just don’t want to get their hands dirty, so by donating, they feel they’ve done their part without having to mingle with ‘those poor people.’

I really enjoyed this post!!

14 Jill { 09.06.11 at 5:08 pm }

Are you a slacktivist? No. You organize and educate at the very least. Your posts, your public speaking, your book, the many links on your sidebar. I guarantee your blog has helped many. The same cannot be said about that meme.

15 Kimberly { 09.06.11 at 7:11 pm }

When it comes to slactivism, I think it depends on whats being done and how its being accomplished. We are in an internet age, where people can do live interviews over the internet and people no longer rely on bringing resumes to a business, but rather email their resume and in some cases interview via live conference over the internet. My father can control the entire running of a mine in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia from his couch on the east coast of Canada. The internet has changed how we do everything. Even how we raise awareness for causes we hold dear to us.

So I do believe that activism and awareness can be done on the internet, but, as long as its done properly. This latest meme on facebook is just one example of the wrong way to do it. But I also see it as “coffee levels of support”: Small, Medium and Large. Small level: twibbons, memes, etc where the affect on a person’s day to day life is at the minimum level, an extra click, a status change. Medium: People who truly care about the matter but may have limited time and resources available to help but back up what they do. Bloggers for a cause that talk about the cause but provide help as well (breast cancer posts about how to do a proper self exam, providing links from official sites and keeping the public up to date on news related to the cause) the person may also take part is some public events (walks for a cure, a rally here or there). Large: The full time supporter. This person has created a group in the public, they volunteer and organize events for the cause, they are at every rally or event, they live this in all aspects of their life.

People can range somewhere between the three but these are the types. We all fall somewhere and in the end, the amount of effort you put into it should relate to the results you get from it.

16 Justine { 09.06.11 at 9:10 pm }

In college, we often talked about the perceived political apathy of our generation. I’m a little torn about slacktivism, because on the one hand, things like fb statuses and retweets make it easy to think one is doing something about a cause. On the other hand, it could be better than doing absolutely nothing but looking at one’s navel, provided that it’s not potentially hurtful like the fb meme was.

Microblogging seems to be less responsible than blogging … at least bloggers tend to martial evidence (for better or worse) for their arguments, and flesh out their ideas a bit … microblogging is more likely to be thoughtless because you can dash it off in a matter of seconds. And yet, it COULD also be more powerful, because of its ability to spread quickly. It all depends on the user of the tool, I guess.

17 Esperanza { 09.06.11 at 10:10 pm }

This makes me think of a line I think I heard on Conan once. It went something like, “yeah, you think you’re great for putting a bumper sticker on your car. It’s literally the LEAST you can do.” I always think of that when I see people with bumper stickers (or Twibbons, etc.) supporting a cause – I wonder if they do other, more productive things to support that cause like give of their time or money.

Thank you for introducing me to the term “slacktavism” – I will use that the next time I grill one of my 8th grade boys on his choice to sport an “I love boobies” bracelet. He better be able to tell me a whole lot about breast cancer if he’s wearing one of those in my class.

18 Bea { 09.07.11 at 8:43 am }

I think it hurts when it allows people to unburden themselves of the nagging thought that they ought to do something to improve the world without actually improving the world. Unfortunately I feel that this happens. But on balance? Hard to say. Probably more good than harm. Someone somewhere will take the issues seriously or actually become informed through some campaigns or their derivatives. Hard to measure though, and I don’t think anyone should be counting a Facebook status update as their good deed for the month or anything.


19 BigP's Heather { 09.07.11 at 1:35 pm }

I posted your original post on my FB and most people agreed with you. One didn’t. I commented back to her and she never responded… I didn’t post on your original post or this one before now because I didn’t want my FB people to find my blog, but I saw this today and had to post:

Apparently others don’t care for this, not just our community.

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