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Slacktivism: Is something better than nothing?

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Changing the world, one Facebook post at a time. Does that sound wrong to you too?

Activism is such a fluid concept. There are a million ways to contribute to a cause or be a part of an activist community, and every day we see new strategies for generating engagement and excitement. And that's awesome. Activism is not an exclusive club.

The use of Facebook, Twitter, and new media is an awesome way to merge education, entertainment, and activism. It's accessible, it's 24/7, and it's attractive to young people and other hard-to-reach demographics. 

A really polarizing but awesome example of online activism is the #solidarityisforwhitewomen movement started by Mikki Kendall on Twitter. It was her way of calling attention to the privilege of white, upper/middle-class women and the attention on this group in mainstream feminism, to the exclusion of all other women and organizing (particularly women of colour).

This is a super important discussion to have, and a great example of using social media to one's advantage. Forcing feminists with all different backgrounds and experiences to take a look at the way they represent their organizing, judge the inclusivity of their work, and ensure they aren't trying to speak for or appropriate other groups of women is esential. Twitter is a great platform to have this discussion because it reaches so many, it "captions" examples of exclusion, and it's quick and easy. #solidarityforwhitewomen trended almost immediately after its inception. Identifying systemic issues of racism, classism, able-ism, transphobia within the feminist movement is one of the keys to moving forward and building a stronger force for change.

This type of online activism is radically different from the uptick in "slacktivism."

This rise in viral video sharing and online charitable campaigns taking over the online activism scene speaks to laziness. These activities send a feel-good rush (and often an automatic, congratulatory Facebook post to let your friends know you donated a kilogram of rice to starving kids in Asia by playing Bejeweled) without calling for real engagement and critical thinking. 

I love the word slacktivism for perfectly describing this sloppy and non-committal way to pretend one is donning an activist cloak, without putting any thought or effort into those actions. Supporting a movement should involved research, passion, and a willingness to get involved outside of social media.

The Oxford Dictionary defines slacktivism as "actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website."

I see nothing wrong with signing a petition or participating in a quick, short event for a cause you believe in. In fact, this is the entire premise of the Activist Toolkit's 3-Minute Actions. Everyone has something to offer, and we all have different ways of advocating for the things we believe in. Digital activism often provides a forum for those who wouldn't be able to offer their time and energy to activist circles without the accessibility of the online world.

 Rather, I think the issue stems from that idea of "involvement." No matter how you're contributing to an activist movement -- whether you're heading a protest on Parliament Hill, or working to educate yourself by reading news articles -- your contributions are valid. The key, in my opinion, is that they are authentic and genuine. It takes away from a group's energy to have activists who aren't committed or don't care about a cause. And it's a waste of your time to absent-mindedly click around on Facebook in order to slap on the activist label. At best, it's misguided and a little bit lazy, but at worst, it's damaging, offensive, ignorant and everything an activist campaign is working to avoid.

Let's take a look at a recent campaign that's been blowing up my Facebook newsfeed: no makeup selfies. I think this campaign is ridiculous, and frankly an excuse for the most off-putting, congratulatory kind of narcissism.

The campaign supposedly started in the U.K., with women posting pictures of themselves without any make-up in order to raise donations for cancer. After posting a #NoMakeUpSelfie, ladies then tag their friends and family to do the same. British cancer charities said there was a decided upswing in website hits and donations, though they weren't sure of the campaign's origins.

By the time it reached Canada, there seemed to be a loss of this donation-raising aspect of the campaign. I saw at least ten no-make up selfies where the photographer then returned to say "I had no idea this was to raise awareness about cancer…"

Here's the thing: I support programs that encourage positive thinking and raising self-esteem. Breaking down sexist societal standards, like the idea that women should be in a full face of make up before she dares to leave the house and allow others to view her natural face, is a super worthy goal. Raising money for cancer is a great use of one's time and energy, provided the charity is responsible and allocates donations well.

But to me, that's not what no make up selfies are about. Supposedly the selfies are raising money for cancer -- but that connection was vague, at best. Moreover, posting a picture of yourself on the Internet has nothing to do with cancer. It's incredibly self-absorbed to think taking a photo and trolling the Internet for compliments about your beauty somehow supports men and women going through cancer.

In fact, it's an activity that can be even be offensive or at the very least a little hurtful to cancer survivors and those currently undergoing treatment, as physical appearance is greatly affected by the journey and can often have a considerable impact on feelings of self-worth and retaining a sense of "normalcy" during a time of life that is chaotic and dredged in fear. 

Of course, some tried to pair their selfies with awareness -- posting links to breast self-exam guides or other information about cancer. But the truth is there are a million other ways to support cancer survivors and raise awareness about the disease without including a picture of your face.

I just can't see how it’s any more than narcissism. It's a way to declare your goodness to the world, show everyone your "selflessness" and "compassion" and veiling it with a vague idea of supporting cancer research. It's a way to derive compliments, head pats, and internal satisfaction... all the while pretending it's in the interest of cancer awareness.

Here's a thought. If you want to support those with cancer, think a little deeper. For just a little more time than it would take to pose for 50 selfies, you could grab a quick meal from the grocery store and take it to a family impacted by cancer. If you're really looking to contribute to the fight against cancer, offer to help someone who is knee-deep in the battle. Simple gestures like offering to drive kids to soccer practice, picking up groceries, or throwing in a load of laundry are all things that those undergoing cancer might really appreciate. That's a way to contribute to the fight without ever opening Facebook.

It's not just about ending selfies and getting off Facebook (although those are clearly two reccommendations of mine). The broader issue is thinking critically about your actions and their impact. 

Activism isn't always focused on direct action -- there are tons of ways to launch and sustain really awesome online campaigns. But taking selfies isn't one of them.

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