You see it in the aftermath of any viral phenomenon created to bring social awareness. From the green avatars on Twitter for Iranian democracy (hey, remember that?) to the ALS ice bucket challenge and now to the rainbowed Facebook profile pictures. You will hear one word over and over and over again, used with enough venom to make you want to close down your social media accounts:
For those playing the home game, slacktivism is when people do something online in support of a certain cause or event, such as sign a petition or share a news article, that requires little time and/or thought. A lot of people consider it a useless endeavor and tend to have some less-than-kind statements about those who do it.
Now, I can understand some of the criticism of the rainbow filters on Facebook. It's easy to be in support of something after the fact, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor - and long after public opinion became more in favor of the cause. For some, it can even be seen as disrespectful, especially if they had spent their whole life afraid of displaying the rainbow flag for fear of retaliation.
And I really do get the criticism of slacktivism. It's frustrating when the online attention does not match the real life work. I've been there as well, using social media to promote a local event or fundraiser. I'd get a good number of "likes" but very few real world reactions. Gee, it's great that you like what we're trying to do, but clicking that four-letter word and dropping off some canned goods are two totally separate actions.
But here's the thing: slacktivism actually does something.
Now, was more attention spent on social media popularity and very cold water during the ice bucket challenge? Yes. However, on top of an awe-inspiring $100 million in donations, many people learned about a very frightening disease for the first time. For others, it drew attention back to something that had gone under the radar for who knows how long. It informed an incredible number of people and drew awareness to the disease. And awareness is a beautiful thing.
Awareness of net neutrality is arguably the main reason why we still have an open and free internet. And people learned about this through said slacktivism. Through people clicking that five-letter word - "share" - on Facebook, whether it was a Youtube video of John Oliver explaining net neutrality or an online petition against it. It was through these "armchair activists" and the viral online trends that created the necessary attention and awareness and a very loud public opinion on the matter.
When everyone is involved - not just those who spend their time on social issues, but those who spend their time on Facebook - it gets just a little bit easier to get what needs to get accomplished, accomplished.
More awareness of the fight for equal rights means it is going to be a little harder for municipalities and companies to infringe upon said rights. And to deride the Facebook profile pictures is to overlook the incredible support it is giving those who once felt like they were completely unsupported. It might be the "in" thing right now, another trend in an ever-evolving world of viral phenomena, but I will gladly take the latest "trend" when that trend promotes equality and love.
I will gladly take a trend where people can come together for something positive. I don't care how much it dips into the "slacktivism" category.
But here's the critical part, cynics of slacktivism: don't stop saying what you're saying. Because awareness really does only get us so far.
It is a beautiful sight to see people come together over a cause, even if it's as effortless as sharing a video or changing your profile picture. There is nothing I love seeing go viral quite like a social movement. Don't give me your blue-and-black (or is it white-and-gold?) dress. Don't give me "15 Things You Totes Do With Your BFF!!!!" I love seeing my Facebook and Twitter feeds flooded with something that can bring a little more peace, equality, or justice in this world.
But that is only the start.
So cynics: keep speaking out against it. While you will be singing to the choir to some (and deeply annoying others), there are a few you will light a fire underneath. A few who will feel guilty over their slacktivism, a few who will realize they need to do more, and a few who will just be desperate to prove you wrong. A few who will get involved with their community, make more intelligent choices about what they buy and who they vote for, or simply donate something that amounts to more than the 2 seconds it takes to "like" a post.
It won't be everybody. It won't even be a lot of bodies. But it will be some.
And as much as the cynics of the cynics of slacktivism might disagree, your vocality is continuing to draw awareness to whatever cause you are talking about. And that is key: change can only come when people care. When people have an emotional response to something. A cause or social issue dipping under radar is the kiss of death.
So I get it. You hate slacktivism. Now shut up. Only don't. Don't you dare stop. Ever.