Any discussion about the use of social media in the non-profit world is also a discussion about what impact it has when someone does nothing more than retweets a message or “likes” a post. Take Part has now published an infographic that aims to correct slacktivism’s bad name.
While I think that social media can drive change, I disagree with many of the examples that Take Part chose for their graphic. Here is why:
1. Kony 2012:
Yes, we have all see the video and yes, we have all heard that it was the most viral video ever (though I still would like to see statistics showing how many people saw the video to the end). However, let’s not forget that Invisible Children asked their supporters for a concrete action – to put up signs and posters etc on 20 April 2012. While I agree that it is a huge success from a marketing point of view, I don’t think we can say anything about it’s impact until we have seen how many of their fans follow their call of action.
2. The Cove:
It is impressive to see close to 500,000 people sign a petition to stop the killing of dolphins in Japan. However, so far, to my knowledge this petition has not led to a the desired change. So I don’t think this serves as an example for the “power of slacktivism” either.
3. Free Rice:
While I think that Free Rice is a fun game to improve your SAT scores and work on your English vocabulary, I also consider it to be one of the really negative examples of slacktivism. You can argue that Free Rice creates awareness for hunger in the world, but I would argue that it creates a false sense of achievement. It suggests to people that they have done something meaningful even though that is not really the case. Let’s look at the numbers: In total, close to 2,000 tonnes of rice were donated through the game so far. That is equal to 9.5 billion right answers that were given on the website – a substantial investment in time. And while 2,000 tonnes of rice is not nothing, it is close to nothing when compared to the 4.6 million tonnes of food that WFP distributed in 2010 alone. I think the energy and good will of the people playing Free Rice to help people could have been used better. But the real problem is that they might not look for an additional action because they feel they already did their part. So rather than showing the “power” of slacktivism, this is an example for it’s perils.
It was a massive achievement for the American Red Cross to raise 38 million USD through text donations after the Haiti earthquake. But I don’t think of these donors as “slacktivists”. They are donors and the fact that they have chosen to donate through mobile phone doesn’t turn them into slacktivists any more than those who are donating by cheque or through a telethon. In my opinion, They simply don’t fit the criteria.
Slacktivism cannot change the world – money can
I’m not saying that online activism doesn’t have it’s place. I think social media is a fantastic tool to generate awareness. But we shouldn’t revel in a false sense of achievement when it is in the power of everyone to do much more than to click “Like”. If you really want to help an NGO or non-profit organization that you support, then donate money. Better yet, set up an automated, monthly bank transfer, even if it’s just a few dollars. That is the best, easiest and most efficient way to help. It might not be sexy, but it can make a real difference.