Don't be a slacktivist

It seems like every other day, our Facebook feeds light up with colors and hashtags, personalized profile picture frames and positive memes, reminding people to care about the myriad social issues facing our society. On April 29, 2020, various domestic violence prevention organizations may ask their supporters to wear denim to raise awareness of domestic violence. In October, GLAAD (a national nonprofit that works toward LGBTQ acceptance through media monitoring) promotes its annual Spirit Day, during which it asks supporters to wear purple to raise awareness about the prevalent bullying of LGBTQ youths. On the first of December each year, many participate in World AIDS Day by wearing a red ribbon to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS.

These directives echo those of many awareness days promoted by organizations and associations throughout the year, all supporting various social causes. According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, which specifically examined disease-related awareness days: “Awareness days do seem to be on the rise, by at least a couple measures — the researchers found that more than 145 bills including the words ‘awareness day’ have been introduced in [the] U.S. Congress since 2005, a huge leap compared with previous years.”

We’re inundated by these awareness campaigns in the U.S., but it’s hard to measure what they actually accomplish. Are we driven to donate to related causes when we see our friends sharing hashtags on social media? Do we consider volunteering with related organizations when we snap selfies in our colored shirts? Most awareness days don’t come complete with a direct call to action.

So why do we do it? Participating in campaigns like these — and specifically not going any further to support social causes — has been called “slacktivism,” the bare minimum you can do to show support for something you believe in. A rainbow filter over your Facebook photo may tell your LGBTQ friends that you accept them, but how far does that acceptance extend? Even when there’s a donation component involved in such campaigns, not everyone who participates can or will put money toward the cause.

[pullquote-1] We’re not trying to say awareness days and Facebook photo filters are inherently bad, of course. Aside from accruing donations or driving traffic to websites (according to The Atlantic, some organizations do see that kind of participation), awareness campaigns can be useful tools to share with those not in-the-know that you’re ready to show public support for a cause that may be controversial. But there is so much more we can be doing, and so much we need to remind ourselves to do in the age of social media.

Let’s all make a vow: In 2020, when we see our friends participating in awareness days or campaigns, we won’t just hit the “Like” button and move on with our lives. We’ll take a moment to think about what we can do in the real world — the impact we can make.

Donations are a quick and easy way to make a difference, and a Google search will often show you the nonprofits raising money for the cause du jour, but your options aren’t limited to that — especially if you don’t have money to spare. Consider volunteering with a local organization, or devoting some time to really researching the topic in question so you can discuss it with friends and family.

Or, make an impact politically by calling your representatives or writing letters or postcards to those in power. Believe it or not, politicians can be swayed when they hear from their constituents.

There’s too much at stake to let ourselves be slactivists, especially as we head into the presidential election that will affect our country for generations to come. So raise awareness, yes, but raise the bar on your activism, too.