What good is slacktivism? A lot, it seems.

Slacktivism annoys me. A lot. The no-make up selfies annoyed me inordinately. The current trend of dumping cold water on oneself is another. But the thing that probably annoys me most is that they are having an impact and raising money for causes that would not ordinarily see such a boost when they shouldn’t be as successful as they are. Its that slacktivism is working and it simply shouldn’t. There is no rational reason why dumping cold water over yourself should result in $20 million raised for ALS- Lou Gerhigs Disease. Some will argue that it is about raising awareness as much as money, but is it? Without conducting a full survey its not possible to tell. The cynic in me believes that many people taking part are probably no more aware of ALS than they were before the challenge, and if they aren’t donating then how much impact are they having? Well clearly a lot, even if a lot of people taking part don’t know much about ALS, it has resulted in a 12 fold increase in donations.


The no make up selfies raised millions for cancer research too. Should I not be happy that millions is being raised for a good cause? Well of course I am. Should it matter if people are doing it more for the challenge and many may not be donating? Does the good outweigh the bad? I don’t know, I think yes, it does. But the problem is, in a few days this craze will vanish like the no make up selfie has. And though the charities have received a boost this year, they’ll be right back to the begging and self run fund raising they where doing before we all decided to dump icey water on ourselves. A one off, even large, influx of cash is next to worthless if in year 2 not a penny is raised. Research takes longer than a few months.


And that is my issue with this type of slacktivism- a phrase coined in the 1990s and originally a complimentary phrase. There is no longevity in it. We do our god deed and move on, happy that we have – if not ourselves personally, than by encouraging others- raised money for a cause. Pat on the back. Well done all.


I wonder how many women after the no make up selfie craze are checking their breasts, how many men checking their testicles? If there is no long term benefit, is the short term gain doing as much good as we think it is? Those are the important questions, and I don’t have the answers. Cancer research is doing rather well, regardless of what some people might want to shout about (we can cure cancer with weed! etc) many types of cancer are treatable, some so treatable they are more a mild annoyance than a life shattering game changer. Breast cancer is awful- but has an 80% survival rate. Money for research one year is great- but what about next year? What about checking yourself?


I will admit I don’t know the full details of ALS, I am for some reason under the impression it is a neurological condition much like Alzheimers and…. WHOOSH- TO GOOGLE- returning from a fast Google, I wasn’t too close, though not a million miles away. Its degenerative. It’s a motor neuron disease (that would have been my next guess). So what has tipping water on oneself to do with that? What has un-madeup women to do with cancer? Does no solid link mater? One thing that struck me early on with the no make up selfie was how pointless it was. There were no donations, no links to cancer research pages, no information about cancer or anything. Juts a picture of a woman with no make up. Sometimes people might add a hashtag or small simple line about “cancer awareness”. Well, we are all aware of cancer, so what did those early selfies do? They spurred others on is what they did. Our annoyance at slacktivism kickstarted a real campaign. It was only after many people shouted out about the pointlessness that people started adding links to cancer research and donating with each posted selfie. The no make up selfies worked not because of themselves but in spite of them. They worked because they initially did nothing. And it seems similar with the cold water videos. That they started somewhat obscurely as a challenge in June 2014 and only recently had the ALS addition – a great addition.


To me this speaks more of activism than slacktivism. People saw the slacktivist postings and were angered, as a result they changed the game. I saw more people posting links, info and images in relation to cancer as a backlash to the selfies initial form than anything in the initial postings. And that’s another point to consider- that slacktivism works at times not because of its noble goal but because of the backlash to slacktivism. A sort of Active-Slacktivism.


I don’t want people to stop posting videos as long as there is genuine awareness being raised or that they are donating. Some have suggested a donation of $100 if you don’t cover yourself in icey water or $10 if you do. Like the no-make up selfies that seem to have developed out of the internets reaction of “What the fuck are you doing?”


So does slacktivism work? On its own, not really when you look at the recent campaigns. Its taken the addition of donations/ links to research and information to get them to work. But regardless, without the initial slacktivism there would have been no developed activ-slacktiv-ism.


These campaigns seem to grow like any meme, they are self(ish) replicating and spread across the globe, then a mutation takes place (the addition of donations/info) and they take on a new form which goes beyond the pejorative slacktivism word. But instead of doing the water challenge and paying – maybe- a tenner, why not set up a monthly payment of a quid or two? Something you wont notice but will quickly surpass any small one off donation? If slacktivism is really going to be successful it needs to have a shelf life beyond a few weeks. It needs to have a long term goal and those doing the water challenge should get themselves up to speed on ALS. There is nothing worse than claiming to raise awareness of something you are not yourself aware of. At best it is insulting, at worst it could be damaging to serious awareness raising endeavours.


Of course, not all the people doing it will be unaware. But I am genuinely curious- how many doing the water challenge even know what the acronym ALS stands for? Keep raising funds. Keep raising awareness. But lets not allow that work to slip away when something new comes along. Serious medical conditions are not a fun game, they affect millions around the world and if we truly want to help we should go above and beyond sitting in a paddling pool whilst a mate tips a bucket of cold water over you. That’s not job done- that’s job begun.

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2 Responses to What good is slacktivism? A lot, it seems.

  1. I cannot completely agree with the general tone, but note also that you are a bit undecided in any case. I do not have access to statistics but I certainly got the impression that the no-makeup selfies did raise some awareness and, as a breast cancer survivor. I feel that if only one more woman has been diagnosed and treated as a result of becoming more aware then it will have been worth it – though I suspect it’ll be a lot more .
    I had seen some of the ice-bucket videos but not taken much notice (nor had any idea why they were being posted) until I saw pne by Martin Sheen who, instead of pouring ice over himself , poured lots of dollar bills and challenged his friends to donate a few thousand rather than pour the ice. However, I still didn’t know what charity was involved until a video tonight made by a sufferer of ALS. I had never heard of ALS so googled it and found out. I haven’t donated yet but I will do, and I hope others will as a result of seeing that video which I shared. If nothing else it will have raised awareness of the existence of this horrific illness and fund some research. Any research funding is to be welcomed .
    I do understand why you feel uncomfortable about the transient nature of the campaigns but still feel that the overall effect is positive. Some awareness has to be better than none.

    • Thanks for sharing this post Ashley, I definitely agree with some aspects of your post. In particular I also take issue with the fact that many people don’t even know the full name of the cause they’ve just donated to or how the money will be distributed or go towards funding research. However, I disagree with the sentiment that slacktivism is working and it simply shouldn’t. I think it’s the first rung to activism – in other words, I think there’s a place for slacktivism as a means of spreading awareness. As for there being no rational reason why dumping cold water over yourself should result in $20 million raised for ALS- Lou Gerhigs Disease I think that’s something marketing teams dream about when we’re talking about virtually no budget here. Ideally, yes, charity shouldn’t be about some kind of beauty pageant but I think these ‘transient campaigns’ as Susan describes them do go some way in normalising and making fundraising natural even if it’s through an act of silliness!


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