(Not so) slacktivism

It’s become fashionable both in the mainstream press and among activists to make fun of slacktivism (or, clicktivism). It’s true that some types of “action” are genuinely pointless – I’m thinking of petitions to stop climate change or Facebook groups against breast cancer – but some of the criticisms are seriously misdirected. For instance, political blogging is almost the definition of slacktivism, but every week we hear about some blogger in Libya, China or Russia who got arrested (or worse) for writing a blog post that criticised their government. I think it’s safe to say that when you are putting yourself at risk of arrest, your activities have long-since gone past the bounds of slacktivism.

Another example that comes to mind is #mooreandme, a Twitter campaign that ran a few months back which took documentary film maker Micheal Moore to task for verbally attacking two women who had made rape accusations against Julian Assange. The campaign resulted in Moore making a statement on the Rachel Maddow show about the seriousness of rape. For many feminists and rape survivors, #mooreandme represented a refusal to accept a culture in which rape survivors are dismissed, ignored, or punished for daring to speak up. This is a campaign that could only have taken place on the Internet, since it depended on mobilizing a group of people who were spread out all over the world.

More generally I’m thinking of feminist blogs such as Shakesville, I Blame the Patriarchy and Tiger Beatdown, which are run by volunteers and which provide a message of women’s resistence to sexism and a forum for discussion which otherwise simply wouldn’t exist, anywhere.

I’m also thinking of a recent UK campaign called One Month Before Heartbreak, in which people with various types of disabilities wrote about how planned drastic cuts to disability benefits would affect their lives. For many of them it must have taken an enormous amount of courage to write about something so personal and painful, particularly since people who are disabled are often discriminated against, falsely portrayed as “scroungers”, and told that they should fade into the background rather than participating in public life. They had to overcome all of this in order to tell their stories, which makes One Month Before Heartbreak a genuine act of courage and resistence which should not be dismissed as “slacktivism”.

Of course there is a huge amount of quasi-political time-wasting nonsense on the Internet. Nevertheless blogs and social media are becoming the tools of choice for activists who are fighting for change under the most difficult or dangerous circumstances. They deserve respect, especially from those who are lucky enough to live in generally less challenging situations than they do.

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