A new vocabulary for the 21st Century: “slacktivism”

Research featured in the New Scientists focuses on the impact of so-called “slacktivism”, or “low-cost, low-risk online activism”, on subsequent civic action.  A detailed analysis of  slacktivism was developed by Henrik Serup Christensen in his 2011 paper in First Monday where he defined the concept and its origin as follows:

“Slacktivism has become somewhat of a buzzword when it comes to demeaning the electronic versions of political participation. The origins of the term slacktivism is debated, but Fred Clark takes credit for using the term in 1995 in a seminar series held together with Dwight Ozard. However, they used it to shorten slacker activism, which refer to bottom up activities by young people to affect society on a small personal scale used. In their usage, the term had a positive connotation.

Today, the term is used in a more negative sense to belittle activities that do not express a full–blown political commitment. The concept generally refer to activities that are easily performed, but they are considered more effective in making the participants feel good about themselves than to achieve the stated political goals. Slacktivism can take other expressions, such as wearing political messages in various forms on your body or vehicle, joining Facebook groups, or taking part in short–term boycotts such as Buy Nothing Day or Earth Hour.”

The research featured in the New Scientist comprises work by Yu-Hao Lee and Gary Hsieh, both from Michigan State University, who analyzed the effects of slacktivism following  (using the description of the New Scientist)  “the Colorado cinema shootings in 2012, which had prompted wide debate over access to firearms. Hsieh’s team recruited 759 US participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing marketplace and surveyed them for their position on gun control. They asked people if they would sign an e-petition to either ban assault rifles or expand access to guns. Some of the participants then had the opportunity to donate to a group that was pro or against gun control. Another group, including people from both sides of the gun debate, were asked to donate to an education charity.” Findings:

“We found that participants who signed the online petition were significantly more likely to donate money to a related charity, demonstrating a consistency effect. We also found that participants who did not sign the petition donated significantly more money to an unrelated charity , demonstrating a  moral balancing  effect. The results suggest that  exposure to an online activism influences individual decision on  subsequent civic actions.”

These two psychological effects provide additional insight on whether or not slacktivism is damaging real citizen engagement potentially replacing meaningful action – as suggested in the below UNICEF video – part of a series titled “Likes don’t save Lives”:


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