Don’t cut slactivism any slack; act meaningfully

Talia Winiarsky

On a frigid January morning, picket in hand, I made my way down Columbus Avenue with thousands of others during the Women’s March and felt a rush of excitement.

Young activists, however, are substituting their pickets for hashtags as they engage in social media activism.

In 2019, it’s easier than ever to become a self-proclaimed activist using hashtags, recently including #CancelKavanaugh and #NotMyPresident, and posting screenshots of photos and tweets.

These posts feature a range of topics including sexual assault, the horrors of war, starving children, and ineffective thoughts and prayers posts after senseless acts of violence.

While the motivation behind social media activism may be benevolent, such activism can be problematic and may undermine the online activist’s good intentions.

I have never voiced my opinions online because I try to limit my time on social media, and I don’t believe that I am capable of creating significant positive change online. I do, however, acknowledge that in some cases, posting on social media can aid a cause by spreading information on how to get involved in protests or rallies, or providing guidance on how to contact legislators.

Additionally, posting to raise awareness can be helpful if the post is about a crisis that isn’t garnering coverage in the media. In June, many of my peers took to posting news about the political crisis in Sudan, which, unfortunately, large media sources did not cover extensively.

These types of posts are often not helpful because when someone shares something on social media, the people who see the post are mostly in the same demographic as the sharer, and because of this, they are already aware of the problem.

Social media activism is especially detrimental because some people feel that posting a screenshot of a photo or Tweet to their story is a way to fulfill their obligation to help, absolving them from taking any further action. Some people resort to the easiest option by posting online, instead of engaging in a form of activism that requires more effort and potentially reaps significant results.

Posting online is also unproductive because viewers can easily disregard the calls for change. Because of the fast pace of social media, viewers flick their thumbs before they can think about the meaning of a post. Social media doesn’t allow for the necessary time and space to process an issue. Online posts undermine the meaning of tragedy; without time to ponder an issue, it’s difficult to care. This lack of time has caused me to be unfazed when I see something horrific. Because I’ve seen so many social media activism posts, their meaning has become diluted for me.

It’s difficult to ignore a movement in real life, especially when it catches the attention of the media. In 2017, stunning photos of Obama’s 2009 inauguration, in contrast to Trump’s inauguration, circulated online. If people had stayed at home and posted on their social media to commemorate Obama’s inauguration instead of attending, the stark contrast of photos wouldn’t have occurred.

I agree that engaging in activism is noble. When I see an issue in the news that particularly speaks to me, rather than taking to Instagram, I conduct research and write a letter to the editor of the New York Times. For example, I wrote a letter to the editor about Stacey Abrams’ fight for improved voting rights.

I see this as a more effective strategy than posting because I find trustworthy sources on a topic and summarize my opinion. Even though the letter is not likely to be published, because I have done research on the topic, I can tell others about the issue in person. Giving someone information personally is more likely to resonate with them than a random tidbit they scrolled past online.

Moreover, many students are involved in issues that they are passionate about, such as climate change and gun control. Call your legislators, write letters to people in power, boycott companies whose values you don’t agree with, volunteer at organizations, and attend rallies to create change. You’ll find an activist community that doesn’t exist online.

If you aren’t sure how to get started and want to improve your activism on social media, try writing your own posts online rather than reposting something that someone else wrote. Research a few facts, and then generate a few sentences that capture your opinions. It will be more meaningful for yourself because you’ve spent time thinking about the issue. Others may be more convinced as well because they are more likely to be swayed when someone they care about is passionate about an issue.

With the array of problems that our generation has to face, including gun control and climate change, it’s going to be necessary for us to voice our opinions effectively.