The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Social media ‘slacktivism’ enacts change

2014, the Year of the Heroic Slacker.

Slacktivism, or low-effort activism on the internet, is the way of the future and that might not be a bad thing.

Many think the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge qualifies, but if it does, it is surely slacktivism at its finest and maybe the first step towards legitimate Social Media Activism.

The genius of slacktivism lies in the fact that anyone can do it for almost no cost or effort. The viral success of the IBC is the reason that the ALS Association reports donations totaling $94.3 million in the past month “compared to 2.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to Aug. 27),” including 2.1 million new donors. This is also the reason why activism and slacktivism alike are turning to social media to determine their futures.

Certainly great for raising awareness, the IBC also raises some skepticism. It’s undeniable that people are more aware of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, than potentially ever before, but does that mean people are more informed about ALS?

“When you hear that phrase ‘raising awareness’, … does that mean that it has higher name recognition or that people actually understand more about it?” said Chris Henry, assistant professor of psychology. “Is the public being educated about what it is?”

Henry and other educators interviewed for this article all seemed skeptical of the actual educational value and with good reason. Of the dozens of IBC videos this author viewed only two delved into what ALS is, the state of research and why their participation was important.

“The IBC does get people talking about ALS, but the dialogue does not seem to extend past commentary of the cute or creative videos people post of their own participation in the challenge,” said a special needs teacher at Gateway Education Center. The teacher went on to say that the honorable intent to raise awareness and educate was overshadowed by the social media fad into which the IBC evolved.

Henry suggested that, for many, the motivation behind making a public display of generosity might be conformity or not wanting to be left behind on a trend, rather than an attempt at education or raising awareness.

However, not everyone was so disparaging about IBC. Henry was willing to term the IBC videos and donations as pro-social behavior, regardless of the motive, and felt it might have involved more people in activism, or slacktivism, than otherwise would have been involved.

For people like Glenn Dobrogosz, executive director of the Greensboro Science Center, and his staff, it was more personal than simply following a social trend.

“We had a close friend and board member who died from ALS recently,” said Dobrogosz in an email interview. “It was something we felt strongly about. We would only participate in something that had purpose and meaning attached to the mission and values of the staff.”

The IBC is proving that social media activism, coupled with clever marketing, can have meaning and be an effective means of raising awareness and funds without trivializing the cause. Maybe this is the new gold standard.

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