For the record, I am a big believer in the power of activism and supporting causes that resonate with your beliefs and values. When friends and colleagues are passionate about the non-profits they support, I am the first to jump on the bandwagon and do what I can to help get the word out, get other volunteers motivated or offer some financial support. I am sure I am not alone in noticing that with the rise of social media, there has also been an influx of passionate ‘friends’ promoting their causes in the virtual world. This influx of doing good has forced me to ask myself if “by doing good, are we also doing well?”
This point was well documented last week. If you are a Facebook user, there is a good chance that last Wednesday you saw a friend posting a color as their status update. This latest craze came after female Facebookers began receiving messages from a very prominent non-profit in their inbox. “We are playing a game for Breast Cancer Awareness,” said one message that hit an inbox in our office. “Write the color of your bra as your status — just the color, nothing else!! Copy this and pass it on to all girls — NO MEN!! This will be fun to see how it spreads.”
Spread is an understatement. While the count keeps ticking, it appears that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, who is synonymous with Breast Cancer, recruited more than 157,000 new Facebook fans as a result of this simple request to post colors on their walls — whether they received the inbox message or not.
But, is the act of simply posting ‘red’ or ‘cream with daisies’ enough to make a difference? Did it really spread the message and help educate women about breast self-exams? Or is it simply a case of slacktivism — feel-good online activism that has less-than-stellar political or social impact?
Before I dive into the pros and cons of this kind of campaign, I think its important to describe where this term actually came from (I had no idea when I set out to write this post). Apparently, back in 1995, Dwight Ozard referred to it in a slightly different way. He used it to describe the activities that had to be done individually (such as recycling, as opposed to participating in a 78,000-person 5k). Most recently, “slacktivist” have been used to describe those that signed petitions, wore wristbands (think LiveStrong), put bumper stickers on their cars, or joined a Cause on Facebook.
The question is… does slacktivism really hurt? You can’t argue with the brand awareness that last week’s example created. Before the launch of this online craze, Komen had a mere 135 fans. These fans are the viral community that Komen is hoping will help spread the word about the vital importance of screenings and early detection, lobby for research and insurance coverage, participate in the infamous Race for the Cure, and donate online to support local breast cancer research.
Some say that virtual communities are simply not enough. They argue that unless these same 157,000 fans pick up the phone and encourage their friends and family members to get that mammogram or perform monthly exams, it doesn’t save lives. It’s simply a slacktivist campaign that has little or no lasting effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction.
The bottom line – in my humble opinion – is that most slacktivists are genuinely well-meaning folks who want to do well by doing good. As long as we all remember that simply clicking a “Become a Fan” link is not enough to truly be a catalyst for change, it never hurts to slack a little while you act.