Slacktivism: how to be effective on social media

By July 14, 2016


International (MNN) – The widespread debate surrounding the modern day phenomena of ‘slacktivism’ is quite surprising.

For those of you who don’t know this term, it was reportedly coined in 1995, a combination of slacker and activism.

We’ve all witnessed it showcased time after time on our social media feeds where it’s also known as hashtag activism. The name itself begs the argument, does slacktivism just add to the noise? Is it a waste of time — a mirage to make people feel better when there’s so much bad going on?

The bad side of slacktivism

We spoke with Compassion International’s Social Media Specialist, Eryn Carman. She recently published a piece on how to be effective in the things you post.

Carman explains, “When you see a trending hashtag for a social cause, people jump on the bandwagon and retweet and repost things that have to do with, say, that hashtag or that social cause they see blowing up on their Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.”

The main criticism is that people often aren’t doing anything helpful behind the words they share.

“Slacktivism itself is mostly known because there‘s no action taken behind the words you’re putting out on social media. So they’re saying it’s a negative thing to be a slacktivist.”

The issue that can arise when we post without action is that we post too much. A rush of posts about causes and/or tragedies can quickly become overwhelming for others.

On one side, sharing every social cause and injustice that comes across your feed puts you at risk of being an alarmist — someone who constantly spreads bad news just for the sake of spreading bad news.

Carman says this can be a problem: “The Bible continually tells us not to worry. The way we speak about tragedy and injustice through social media can actually contribute to fostering a sense of fear.”

The other problem that can occur is that we stop caring. “Our social media feeds are overflowing with hurt in the world. Post after post after post of news and injustices. At some point, we just grow numb to it. We’re just not created for infinite empathy. We can’t care about every injustice and every cause. And that’s called compassion fatigue.”

While the above issues are common, Carman says there is a positive side to slacktivism, if we’re careful.

The good

While sharing every possible cause and news story that crosses our path can actually be unhelpful, Carman lays out some tips that can help social media users make a difference, not just noise.

For instance, “It can be highly effective if people are connected to the cause personally — if it’s something they are passionate about and if it’s an actual genuine outpouring of who somebody already is.”

Once you’ve honed in on a cause, it’s important to connect to an organization that has a system of change already in place. This helps people interested in your cause to do more than “like” or “share.”

Be thoughtful about your activity

Photo courtesy of Jason Howie via Flickr.

Photo courtesy of Jason Howie via Flickr.

“I think we all need to take a moment and pause before we hit post. Mostly to pray and meditate. Pray about why you use social media, how you use it. Meditate on your motives for posting something or replying to something,” Carman says.

Sometimes we get caught up in sounding the alarm. Over and over again. But as we’ve already mentioned, this can raise fears unnecessarily. It’s not about ignoring the facts, but about making sure they are, indeed, facts.

“One practical way to cut down on that is to do your research. Make sure you’re checking facts before you post something. Become an expert in the area of this cause. Because the more intelligently we can speak about something, the more influence we can have,” Carman says.

She encourages users to take account of whether they are behaving consistently online and off. There’s an inherent danger in the fact that on social media, we miss nonverbal social cues and communication. We become emboldened to talk to friends and strangers in ways we wouldn’t face-to-face.

To address this, Carman advises, “It’s helpful as an exercise to imagine that you’re sitting across from someone, one person specifically, and talking just to them before you post anything. Imagine that, and it will help you temper your words with grace and with love and wisdom instead of posting hastily.”

Your cause and social media

So many causes grapple for our attention. And for Christians, we usually have the goal to support the greater cause of telling others about Jesus. In light of the tips mentioned above, let’s look at Compassion International as an exemplar.

Let’s say you care deeply about children living in poverty. Good! You’ve established a focus passion. However, publishing facts to social media, no matter how well informed they are, won’t be enough to change the reality that is.

You have to find a means to turn your cause into action. The easiest and probably most effective way to do this is to connect with a group or organization that is already doing this work.

Act for Compassion is one example of a cause that works. Photo courtesy of Compassion International via Facebook.

Act for Compassion is one example of a cause that works. Photo courtesy of Compassion International via Facebook.

Compassion International allows you to help out a child in need while creating greater opportunity for them to hear the Gospel and know Jesus.

And what’s more, they have resources developed specifically to help you be an advocate on social media for your cause.

You can start your own fundraiser for impoverished children through their Act for Compassion campaign. You’ll also inform your friends about the rewards that come with being a child sponsor. Learn more about that here.

It’s important to note that when you become an advocate for something, it gets personal. And that’s a good thing. It’s you sharing your own ministry and helping activate the Body of Christ to do something.

“When it comes to posting on social media about a cause or something you care about, the reason it can be effective is because it’s connected to you and who you are. The more personal something is, the more people are likely to connect with it.”

Carman says if we aren’t sure whether or not we should post or re-post something, we should consider this rule of thumb: “When in doubt, if it doesn’t have to do with you directly, if it doesn’t impact your life or something that you care about, don’t post about it.”

Becca Bishop works in Public and Media Relations for Compassion International. She leaves us with this really good question: “Are the things that we do pointing to Christ? How are the things that we are saying on social media building up His kingdom?”

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