So you say you’re “helping out the less fortunate," huh? Or maybe the thousands of people suffering from that disease you read about on your friend’s status update? You probably contributed to an “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” video these past few months, but do you even know what ALS is? Have you made a difference in your community lately? Or did you just post on Facebook about the problems in your community?
Activism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue." Simply, an activist is someone who directly impacts someone or something according to their beliefs. In today’s society, this does not seem to ring true. Many people rely on their online profiles to seem productive in their reform efforts. Their “retweets” and “status updates” are just words on a screen for hundreds of others to read. The definition reads a “direct vigorous action” must be taken in order for it to be considered true activism. A short one hundred and forty character statement is not something a true activist would stand by. A direct action is far more substantial than the posts on social media websites.
Take “Kony 2012” for example. In March of 2012, the Invisible Children, Inc. released a video exposing the military and criminal efforts made by fugitive Joseph Kony in Africa. The purpose of this video was to make the public aware of what was happening and propose a plan to stop it. This 29 minute long video went viral. Millions across the nation watched and posted about what they were watching. But what was actually done about this issue? Not even close to what should’ve been done. Of the millions of people that saw or read about this campaign, the majority of them had only donated money to the Invisible Children, Inc. The goal of this entire campaign was to stop Joseph Kony and according to news.com
, Invisible Children pocketed most of the money that was donated. Therefore, Joseph Kony, to this day, was never captured.
That is the problem with social media today. These screens are ways for people to hide behind an online profile and lazily participate in the problems within society. “Slacktivism” is what people are calling it, and is what these minimal efforts should be referred to as. It is up to you to take the next step in becoming an activist, instead of a slacktivist.
An urban dictionary user defines Slacktivism as “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem." One of the most relatable examples of a slacktivism is signing an online petition. Many petitions that I come across are for the legalization of gay marriage. Instead of stating you support gay marriage, get in your car, get out and walk a 5k for the cause. Take action and become a part of your community. There are many more ways to make an effective difference than hiding behind a screen or phone.
Take a look back on Martin Luther King Jr. Starting in the mid-1950s, King led the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. By preaching, marching, writing, and acting upon his words, Martin Luther King Jr made arguably one of the biggest impacts our nation has ever seen. Since the development of technology and mobile devices, Americans have embraced a lazy characteristic resulting in the “slacktivist” way of approaching an issue.
A common theme in activist efforts today is spreading awareness. There’s this idea that giving the public some knowledge on a controversial issue will be enough to fix the problems in society. There are more steps than just spreading awareness. For example, do not just share a story of a homeless man on the streets on New York. Instead, look into volunteering for a homeless shelter or food bank to give these less-fortunate people the attention and essential goods that they deserve. Just because you let your community know that there are homeless people out there does not mean that you are directly helping them. Spreading awareness is not the activist way to approach an issue, even if it is the first step.
If you’re interested in changing your slacktivist ways, start a club in school, go out into the community and participate as a volunteer, lobby for a cause, write letters to your congressmen and women, be active. Actions do speak louder than words. So test yourself, get out there, and make a difference.
Emily Hecht is a junior at Westfield High School.