Slacktivism is a term coined years ago to describe support of a political or social cause that involves as little action or personal effort as possible, such as signing an online petition or sharing a tweet but little else.
Many viewers tuned in to witness a moment in history on March 24: The March for Our Lives and its 800+ sister city marches across the country. Alfonso Calderon, Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind, Delaney Tarr and Ryan and Matt Deitsch have a common denominator; they survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy in Parkland, Florida in February. They also galvanized to change the typical social and legislative narrative that occurs after every mass shooting in America; an echo-chamber of divided voices demanding gun control legislation versus passionate protectors of the Second Amendment.
Social media to recruit a community around an issue
Activists share statistics about the amount of funding various politicians have accepted from the National Rifle Association. The conversation burns hot and angrily for a few weeks and then subsides until the next mass shooting. The current narrative is different. So how did a small group of teenage students force a sea change in the hotly debated gun control conversation? They started with social media but didn’t stop there.
In the hours that followed the shooting, Cameron Kasky posted the following to his personal Facebook: “Working on a central space that isn’t just my personal page for all of us to come together and change this. Stay alert. #NeverAgain.” His hashtag spread like wildfire, accompanied by another: #EnoughIsEnough. Kasky and his peers quickly formed Never Again MSD, a student-led organization that advocates for tighter weapon regulations to prevent violence.
Slacktivism meets its match
The Parkland activists have effectively circumvented any trace of slacktivism around their cause by powerfully pairing information shared from social media with real action. Since the tragedy at their school occurred, they have:
- Stayed in the news cycle by offering daily interviews with press from across the nation.
Effectively utilized Twitter less than a week after the shooting to organize a large march on the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee to meet with state lawmakers and vocalize their demands for action against gun violence. “The news forgets very quickly,” Jaclyn Corin told Vanity Fair. “We needed a critical mass event.”
- Shared the call to action to support new legislation via a #NationalSchoolWalkout on both March 14 and plans for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
Written handfuls of personal op-eds in major publications like the New York Times and Time Magazine.
- Inspired triple-figure donations for their cause from celebrities such as George and Amal Clooney, Steven and Kate Capshaw Spielberg and Oprah.
- Remained focused. Naysayers and skeptics billing David Hogg’s activism as crisis acting didn’t phase him. They amplified his following. “These people that have been attacking me on social media, they’ve been great advertisers. Ever since they started attacking me, my Twitter followers are now a quarter of a million people. People have continued to cover us in the media. They’ve done a great job of that, and for that, I honestly thank them,” Hogg told CNN.
- Leveraged Twitter, Instagram, email lists and public records of contact information of representatives to pressure the Florida Legislature to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act on March 9.
- Obtained a public permit for Pennsylvania Avenue and publicly organized the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. on March 24. The turnout was estimated between 1.2 and 2 million people. This makes it one of the largest protests in our country’s history.
Researchers are quick to cite the general affluence of the Parkland community and the students’ inclusion of racial minorities as two other factors in the success of their campaigns. Most agree that the true differentiator for Parkland has been the action that backs up their mobilization on social media platforms. The activist and suffragette Marjory Stoneman Douglas, for whom the school is named, recognized slacktivism years ago. She wrote, “Don’t think it is enough to attend meetings and sit there like a lump…Speak up. Learn to talk clearly and forcefully in public.”
As my colleague Barb wrote back in February, “No matter what your views are on the 2nd amendment, it’s hard not to take notice of Generation Z, and how they’re using all the communications tools available to them to speak out, and perhaps make a difference.” As user behavior on social networks continues to evolve, it’s apparent that efforts to reach individuals and drive “action” must also innovate and evolve to achieve tangible results.