Social media platforms have given users unprecedented access to a world-wide audience, at almost no cost to the user. It has given a voice to those who were previously muzzled. It has brought issues to the attention of people who would not normally know anything about it. Social media has changed how we address justice issues in our world.
With such a strong push for social justice to be taught in our classrooms, we regularly discuss how social media has opened the doors for so many to speak out. We talk about what things must have been like before these tools. We talk about if we would even know anything about these issues if it were for these social justice heroes using social media.
One thing I haven’t talked about with my students yet is slacktivism, a word I’ve had to right click and “add to dictionary” a lot over the last few days.
A recent report from UBC found that if Facebook users click “Like”, they are less likely to make a donation to a charity (LINK). A charity that has clearly caught their attention if they are clicking “Like”. The thought being that your network of friends has seen you’re supportive of a cause is just as useful as donating to the cause.
After the attacks in Paris this past year, Facebook made it even easier to support the cause, by just clicking a button to overlay a flag on your profile picture. You don’t even need to open Photoshop or Paint to do this yourself now. Click. Done. Was there any suggestion of what you can do to help others? Not that I saw. Was almost every Facebook friend covered in a French flag? You bet.
I think the problem in a lot of cases is just that we want others to be aware that we are aware. It’s difficult to know how you can contribute to a lot of social justice causes online and there isn’t a lot of information. It’s impossible to engage with all of them. It’s easy to look like you are.
There is a lot of debate about whether or not slacktivism is a good thing. Some find it not just useless, but counterproductive. Others say it is changing the world. Personally, I think both sides make solid points and have challenged me to rethink my interactions with activism online. As a classroom teacher, I’m more interested in how slacktivism is seen by my students. Is it their normal? Are they conscious of it, and changing their behaviour because of it? My students have been around a digital world their entire lives, born right around the time I first use the internet myself.
Do they see “liking” something just as valuable as going out and donating time or volunteering to help a cause? The big questions, the ones I will pose to my own students when we talk social justice and slacktivism next, are:
- Is clicking Like better than no support at all?
- Are we so conditioned with all the causes online that we don’t take them all so seriously?
- Is it even possible to fully engage in all the causes we see?
- What can we do make our presence online more meaningful?
- When is it necessary to take activism offline? Or, is it?
These should prove to make for an interesting conversation with my current middle years students.
I think it’s important that we make our students aware that their actions online can impact their world online. It’s easy to click Like, feel good, and move on. I’m guilty of doing so in the past and will probably do it many more times with causes I support. But, now that I’m more aware of slacktivism, I’ll start looking out for opportunities to engage further with the causes – online or offline. I hope to get my students to the same place.