TED Conversations

Michael Clausen

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How effective is social media activism (and "slacktivism") in the world today?

"Slacktivism" and "clicktivism" have been used as criticisms to social media activism. The so-called slacker activism theorizes that people on social media platforms only participate in feel-good clicking (they may like something, but have little care for it later), which doesn't cause real change and action in the world. I keep thinking about KONY 2012 and what may happen to the movement this year (will it be a success?).

So then, how effective is social media activism, if at all? Are people who use social media platforms more likely to cause change than those who do not? How should activism campaigns be designed? How can they be more effective in creating change?

  • Mar 30 2012: The arguments against social media activism are that people aren't actually getting out, demonstrating, signing petitions, and whatnot. These things are true, but "slacktivism" has its benefits.

    First, "slacktivists" who cannot or would not go out and do things in "the real world" can have some power online. By using social media activism, a great deal of people who would normally be just sitting on their couch doing nothing are now sitting on their couch doing something. This is important. It is getting people involved, and not just symbolically.

    Now, the power of slacktivism cannot be directly determined. This is because clicking "sign" on an online petition, or making a post on Twitter does not directly change things. But they lead to change. If you read or watch the news, you will find that Internet protests make headlines. They attract international media attention. When this happens, big entities get involved, like Reddit and Wikipedia in the recent SOPA blackout. That is what causes change, and that is what some people would call real activism.

    So ultimately, the power of social media activism is not that it changes things, but that it spreads awareness of things. It rallies people. It is then that these millions of people come together and change the world. But in many cases this would not have happened if not for the work of slacktivists.
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    Apr 7 2012: It depends how you determine 'effective'. If you mean, does it create immediate change others can experience then the answer is 'no'. However, clicking a link or tweeting is much more important than the actual click or tweet: it indicates a conviction that is so strong that peope are willing to make - albeit a minimal - effort. To induce change, a first action is necessary to take it to the next level (being more time/resource intensive action). The problem is that Facebook & Twitter are not capable (yet) to create that second step.