Activism Vs. Slacktivism


George Floyd was killed on May 25 while in police custody, and many were forced to face the issues of police brutality, racism, systemic oppression and more. Students turned to social media activism, finding a presence on popular platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. This continuous evolution makes approaches to activism ever-changing. 

“I strongly believe that social media activism can make a real difference,” senior Katie Ault said. “Spreading awareness about the social injustices in our world is a start, and then when petitions start coming around, and donations as well, it gives the community a way to start finding solutions.”

Floyd’s highly publicized death acted as a catalyst for thousands to take action in whatever way they could. Names and faces of those affected only continued to compile over the course of a few months, and the public was more aware than ever. The nature of online communication gave users a chance to learn about issues that they wouldn’t normally face in their immediate surroundings. 

“Prior to this movement, I was shamefully unaware of the many disparities faced by the black community, and social media has helped me become more knowledgeable and willing to make a change,” said fellow senior Ivana Karastoeva. 

Ault and Karastoeva have taken it upon themselves to use their platforms, however small they may be, to continue to share the information they find online. Although high schoolers have limited resources, they have opted to repost information from accounts that are designed to provide knowledge on their stories or highlights, as well as links to petitions and communication to government officials. 

The public awakening to social and political issues happened during a time in which most people couldn’t freely leave their houses due to the continuously growing pandemic. Many had no choice but to take to social media in an attempt to further public awareness. Instagram accounts such as “Impact” or “So You Want To Talk About” started to pop up and amass millions of followers. These accounts were created by independent content creators who want to make a difference. They popularized the use of graphics and slides to present information about issues around the world in a user friendly way. 

“It is so important to spread information because some people, like teenagers our age, might not watch the news,” Ault said. “So with that, I think it is great that a lot of our generation turns to social media to spread awareness.”

Social media allowed new people to not only become more aware of social and political issues, but it also opened a door for a chance to help. According to the students who are too young to vote or drive themselves to protests, they often felt they had limited opportunities to support the causes they believed in. 

“I think activism now is becoming more inclusive and telling people that anyone can do it if they have a drive to act for change,” Karastoeva said. “Social media can also hold people accountable, which is also encouraging individuals to do more than just post information on their story.”

However, some people try to take advantage of online activism because it is only a few clicks away. This makes performative allyship, where individuals do the bare minimum to appear to care about a cause that is gaining momentum on social media, more popular. This idea was aptly nicknamed “slacktivism,” and it is often the cause of certain movements losing momentum or credibility.

“A couple months after the death of George Floyd, people who were once involved in sharing petitions and information resumed back to their old feeds, feeling a false sense of pride for having done something and believing that was enough to incite change,” said Karastoeva. 

Slacktivism can not only kill momentum, but entire ideas. For example, two executives for Atlantic Records, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, proposed an online movement titled “#TheShowMustBePaused,” which encouraged others in the music industry to halt all production on June 2 and use the day to reflect and plan for future action. Many other companies such as Amazon, Youtube, Spotify and more participated to some extent. Within the public, it evolved into users posting black squares on their feed in an attempt to stand in solidarity, with the caption “#BlackOutTuesday.” 

A few problems arose with this trend. One of the most common occurrences was that users would also add “#BlackLivesMatter” to their captions. This led to the entire hashtag being composed of black squares and caused important information to be hidden. Also, many people, including popular social media influencers and celebrities, solely posted the black square and did not follow it with any other relevant information, which produces no real change for the movement. According to Ault and Karastoeva, slacktivism often decreases the potential impact that social media could have on making a difference, and it paints it as an invalid and ineffective method of activism. 

“Social media can act to amplify the voices of the people wanting to make change but not being heard in the outside world,” said Karastoeva. “It also brings like-minded individuals together and unites us under a similar issue, and this amount of people fighting for the same cause can put pressure on legislators to act.”