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Slacktivism and Social Media

bridgetmartha's picture

This image is, for me, one that epitomizes the 21st century concept of “slacktivism.” I don’t want to say that it’s specific to my generation, as it certainly is not; rather, it is specific to those communities—generations, populations, classes, communities—for whom the Internet holds a presence. This particular image is one of many of its kind circulating on Facebook: images and trends meant as a way to demonstrate awareness and support of a disease, disability, or disorder. Sometimes it’s about finding a cure (like the pinkwashing of literally everything during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October), while other times—as in this case—it’s in promotion of regarding those who have said disease/disability/disorder with love and affection. Although it is evident that this ad, as with so many others, is well-intentioned, it is still very problematic for me.

At its most basic, it others and stigmatizes those with autism, by reassuring the general public that loving and accepting them is enough, as if their disorder must be some barrier against being loved and accepted. Such a statement victimizes those with autism, as if they are puppies lost in the world, disregarded by everyone else and in desperate need of love and acceptance. It is a form of what Garland (2002) refers to as sentimental rhetoric, a notion that “produces the sympathetic victim or helpless sufferer needing protection…and invoking pity, inspiration, and frequent contributions (63).  Moreover, the very nature of the image—advertising “likes” and “shares,” while again with the intent of spreading awareness, has the impact of enabling the non-autistic (and, as with the many other images in this category, the nondisabled) a self-congratulatory pat on the back for promoting autism awareness by doing literally nothing but clicking a button on the Internet. As if to add insult to injury, the post only requests to be shared for an hour—as if those who might shared need not be deterred by having a post in which they openly share their support for those with autism (or perhaps just their tendency toward slacktivism) for any longer that 60 minutes. Instead of actively educating themselves on autism and all that it entails, or on the subject matter of disability in general and why spreading images rooted in Garland's sentimental rhetoric is such an issue, sharers are only passively acknowledging autism and viewing those with autism in a pitying light and infantilizing light (while all the while gaining support from friends and followers for being considerate/selfless/compassionate, opening up a whole other can of worms as to who the sharers are serving or trying to serve--people with disabilities or themselves). In short, they are taking the easy way out, and, in the process, promoting inaccurate and problematic ideas.



rb.richx's picture

Relation to your post: Challenging

First, I'd like to take a moment to say that I agree with you that this image is not great. It is bad activism that potentially infantilizes, doesn't educate, and has a time limit (????) which makes no sense.

That said, the concept of the slacktivist is rooted in falsehoods and expectations of audience.

First, the concept of slactivism is ableist and classist. Not everyone has the ability to engage in activism in other ways (mentally or physically), perhaps due to disability, time restaints, lack of education, or general lack of resources like money or some organization to throw their support behind. To "share" an image, news article, or some other form of support is still support and may help them or others.

Secondly, online activism allows for awareness. This may then lead to education since people are at a computer in the first place. In this instance, they could start looking up what autism is, what its symptoms are, and what people with autism need. Also, this awareness extends across boundaries of ability, race, nationality, education, age, etc. Something small that is easily accessible and shareable through the internet is the reason we have things such as the Ice Bucket Challenge that is still raising money and awareness.

So, essentially, I think the concept of slactivism is bad, and instead we should focus on our langauge use and how we can be better activists.