Activist or Slacktivist? In Defence of Online Activism

I learned recently that there is a word for people whose only involvement with any form of activism is via online means, such as liking a Facebook post, retweeting something, or clicking to sign an online petition. The word is ‘slacktivist’, and its judgemental tone got up my nose from the start.

So I did some reading around online activism, thinking that maybe there was some justification for criticising people for doing something rather than nothing (and even that statement suggests that ‘doing nothing’ is not o.k.). But my reading only confirmed that my initial distaste for this term was valid.

In the video I’ve posted below, I offer some thoughts on how social justice groups can use online activism to their advantage, what some of the drawbacks are, and why slacktivism as a term should probably just fade out.

Making the video

I decided to appear in the video myself, because the more I read, the more strongly I felt about the slacktivist critique. As a seasoned online activist, and as someone who regularly donates money to causes I care about, I felt like my point of view might be worth sharing.

The video features much of my own media (video, graphics, and a photo of my feet – don’t worry, it makes sense in the context), but where I couldn’t adequately depict an idea using my own resources, I’ve drawn on the work of others, references to which you can find listed below this post and in the closing credits of the video.

What the scholars are saying

You’ll hear from a number of scholarly sources and I’ve put brief textual references to them in the body of the video. You can find full details in the credits below this post and at the end of the video, in case anything piques your interest. There were many more scholars who informed my thinking and you’ll have no trouble finding resources if you simply search on ‘digital activism’ or ‘online activism’. The books are a good place to start, as their tables of contents give you an idea of what other terms you could search on (i.e. what the current issues are).

What I learned

I’m still quite new to video editing, so I made a lot of rookie mistakes in creating this one. Fixing them was very time consuming but that’s one of the best ways to learn, right? So I learned a lot:

  1. Put ALL your media elements into the timeline before you start the detailed editing, then work from the beginning to the end (or learn how to select everything to the right of the cursor). Otherwise, you’ll edit the thing a hundred times.
  2. Always save a copy before you make a major change to an almost-finished video file. Adding the music track threw all my painstakingly edited work to hell and blew about 1.5 hours (see point 1, above).
  3. Find a reliable editing tool, not one that hangs, crashes and has to be restarted every hour or so. This was my biggest headache. Once the video got beyond about the 3-minute mark, the tool became highly unstable. So I was holding my breath much of the time, hoping things would just work as they should.
  4. I have a lot to learn about audio editing. Some mysterious ‘pops’ remain on the audio, despite my efforts to remove them.
  5. I have a lot to learn about lighting. If filming with obvious shadows behind you, make sure you can do the whole take before the sun has moved too far and changed the light.
  6. I know nothing yet about colour correction or removing the milky appearance of over-exposed footage.

I hope you enjoy what I’ve created. Do leave a comment if something resonates with you.

634 words

Scholarly sources:

Bailard, CS 2014, Democracy’s double-edged sword: how Internet use changes citizens’ views of their government, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development 2017, The State of Broadband 2017: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D), Geneva.

Carty, V 2015, Social Movements and New Technology, Westview Press, Boulder, CO.

Checker, M 2017, ‘Stop FEMA Now: Social media, activism and the sacrificed citizen’, Geoforum, vol. 79, pp. 124-133.

Dennis, J 2016, ‘“It’s Better to Light a Candle Than to Fantasize About a Sun”: Social Media, Political Participation and Slacktivism in Britain’, PhD Political Science thesis, University of London.

Division for Sustainable Development 2015, Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, New York.

Dumitrica, D & Achterberg, E 2017, ‘Digital Activism and the Civic Subject Position: A Study of the Ons Geld (Our Money) Citizen Initiative in the Netherlands’, in 2017 Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government, E-Democracy and Open Government (CeDEM), Krems, Austria,  pp. 229-242.

McNeill, JL & Thornton, TF 2017, ‘Pipelines, Petitions, and Protests in the Internet Age: Exploring the Human Geographies of Online Petitions Challenging Proposed Transcontinental Alberta Oil Sands Pipelines’, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, vol. 107, no. 6, pp. 1279-1298.

Morozov, E 2009, ‘Texting Toward Utopia: Does the Internet spread democracy?’, Boston Review, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 19-21.

Olson, M 1965, The logic of collective action: Public goods and the theory of group, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Pirannejad, A 2017, ‘Can the Internet Promote Democracy? A cross-country study based on dynamic panel data models’, Information Technology for Development, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 281-295.


Wonderful by Scott Buckley (CC BY 4.0)

Video footage and animations other than by author:

Huge Montreal Student Protest, March 22 2012 (view from bridge) by MontrealManif (CC BY 2.0)

Animated object, ‘Around the World’, CyberLink PowerDirector stock animation

Animated object, ‘Social Media Talk’, CyberLink PowerDirector stock animation


Photographs other than by author:

rainbow-flag by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann (CC BY 2.0), text overlay by author

Women’s Rights by Marc Nozell (CC BY 2.0)

Crowd by James Cridland (CC BY 2.0)

Finger by Gerd Altmann (CC0)

Responding to Hurricane Sandy by NOAA’s National Ocean Service (CC BY 2.0)

Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 8] by Brian Birke (CC BY 2.0)

Hurricane Sandy – Jersey shore by b0jangles (CC BY 2.0)

Hurricane Sandy . The Aftermath by Hypnotica Studios Infinite (CC BY 2.0)

Flooded Battery Park Tunnel after Hurricane Sandy by Timothy Krause (CC BY 2.0)

Communication by Hardi Saputra (CC BY 2.0)

Flock by Karen (CC BY 2.0)

telecommunications, power by Steven Damron (CC BY 2.0)

Other media:

Animal Rights graphic created in MS PowerPoint by the author

‘Sign the Petition’ and related graphics created in MS PowerPoint and edited in The GIMP by the author

Transition slide, ‘Binary 1’, by CyberLink PowerDirector

Background image, ‘Light’, by CyberLink PowerDirector

Background image, ‘Technology’, by CyberLink PowerDirector

‘At’ (@) symbols and envelope created in MS PowerPoint and edited in The GIMP by the author

Text overlays for quoted material created in MS PowerPoint and edited in The GIMP by the author

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