PRO: Slacktivism raises awareness, creates change

Credit: Eunice Oh/Art Editor Credit: Eunice Oh/Art Editor

It’s a little sad that a mere show of solidarity is being met with a thousand very serious articles on how ineffective it is to change your profile picture in response to a crisis. Even the name “slacktivism” derides any form of Internet protest, regardless of its purpose.

In truth, Internet activism is wildly effective in achieving its goals through generating awareness about its targets. Slacktivism was the basis for plenty of effective protests, from the uprisings in Moldova in 2009 and Egypt in 2011 — both triggered by social media organization — to the expansion of race-based protests beyond Yale and the University of Missouri, which has led to students' demands being met at colleges like Princeton.

However, even with all these examples, criticizing slacktivism as a form of protest requires people to forget what protests do. Protests are not about raising money; they’re about generating and focusing political will. The Internet reaches many people very fast and isn’t subject to things like police resistance and weather. Internet activism allows more people to become aware of a situation. Awareness is how political will is generated.

When slacktivism is used outside the theater of protest to do things like generate money, it’s still highly effective. Sure, fewer people will donate when they hear about a cause on social media — people who actively seek out charity work are certainly more likely to donate to a cause.

However, charities don’t run on a small group of people giving them dollars. If a charity exponentially expands their awareness by expanding via social media, fewer people need to donate for that organization to meet their goals. Take the "Ice Bucket Challenge," which generated hundreds of millions of dollars even though only a tiny fraction of the people who saw videos of it donated. Since then, research funded through the meme has led to a potential cure to Lou Gehrig's disease.

Furthermore, viral phenomenons allow charities to reach people with vast amounts of resources who can generate the multiple thousand dollar donations. These dollars are much more meaningful than having a core group of committed followers.

Even if changing profile pictures won’t destabilize ISIS, bring back the people killed, or even create resources and safe havens for people who have lost their homes to ISIS and Assad’s murderous aggression, it could still have a positive impact. Taking down ISIS and stabilizing the Middle East is not within the power of your average teenager, but raising awareness is.

Even a show of collective mourning, bound as it is to the digital realm, might have the power to soothe grief or generate resolve. People cannot create change if they do not know about the issues or support a movement they have never heard of. Awareness is necessary for activism, and slacktivism sends waves of awareness across countries and cultures.