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Sometimes Slacking Off Can Change the World

08/04/2012 09:51 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT
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In 2012, we find that mobile technology is connecting us and is helping mobilize individuals and communities to change the world in a more positive way through social networks. That's a great thought but the fact is that most people are wasting their time thinking if they watch a video or "liking" a Facebook page will lead to some kind of change. This is errant slacktivism -- "a pejorative term that describes "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction." People need to stand up, actively engage and be willing to actually do something.

Slacktivism started to make me feel angry and I actually started by writing this article as an attack on slacktivists that self-righteously think they are making a difference through their little, non-impact actions online. Then, after reading and research, I started to realize that slacktivism can be incredibly effective and that leadership and collaboration was key to success. Let's look at two "successful" campaigns/movements that involved slacktivism.

The "Occupy" Movement was wholly underwhelming beyond squatting and, here in Vancouver, a half-decent dance party. There was no leader and no real new news -- wow, a few people with money rule the world, shock horror. People believed they could redress balance but without leadership and a clear direction this was bound to wither away over time. They gathered a huge online following but little has changed.

Another example is the Kony campaign. Seemed like a good idea, I watched the video and it moved me. I didn't really do much about it due to a mix of unclear actions that were coming next. Oh, a new video -- great! The leadership under Jason Russell wasn't really to my liking, although I liked his sidewalk dancing. I have not linked to these two examples as I feel they do not deserve any more attention beyond this criticism.

Campaigns, or so-called movements, like these make me angry because they have made every little difference beyond mild awareness isolated from real facts and they ignored fundamentals that have held true for thousands of years. The fundamentals for a successful campaign or movement that gains support and affects change are that they have:

  • A true, undeniable vision,
  • A plan; and
  • A leader that steadfastly defends the reason to believe and stands up for you.

A well-executed campaign or movement can affect change in the world where people online can be the catalyst for spreading the word and inciting real-world actions. Oftentimes it is politics and people wanting to spearhead a cause that really makes a difference. These can be individuals or organizations but you need that leadership. I'm going to talk about two very different examples that I hold in high esteem that used slacktivist techniques to affect change.

The first is about a small nation called Iceland. In 2008, a financial crisis hit the country with a knock-on effect to others. Thousands of Icelanders left for other countries, there was dissent and dissatisfaction in the government and Icelanders started to lose hope. It was at this low ebb that more alternative approaches started to make sense and people showed their support in very different ways. In the capital, Reykjavík, they needed something to uplift them. Enter Jón Gnarr, an Icelandic actor and comedian. He started the Best Party with people that had little or no background in politics. The belief was that having a leader that would inject fun into the community and would help improve the morale in Iceland with a knock-on effect in the economy. It worked, at least in terms of morale, and he has been mayor of Reykjavik since 2010. Another amazing thing also happened in Iceland, they crowdsourced their new constitution. They put people in charge and little actions through social media led to a new way for Iceland to exist in tough times.

The second example is the Stop Piracy Online Act (SOPA), which aimed to protect intellectual property of content creators and provide protection against counterfeit drugs. On the surface this sounded fine but when people dug deeper it was fundamentally flawed as the free nature of the Internet leads to syndication of content and constant need for innovation are stifled and could be halted. The impacts are not just on individuals but could have implications on the economy. People online knew this was wrong but the leaders in government in the U.S. were hard to pin down and interact with. This is when the big boys came in to be activists for the cause, creating a somewhat unlikely and loose coalition.

As a form of protest Google created a blacked out banner and garnered 4.5 million signatures on their anti-SOPA petition in 24 hours. Wired created blacked out content, Wikipedia went dark, Craigslist added an intercept page and Flickr added functionality that allowed people to blackout each other's photos. This was a bold move. The Oatmeal even joined the fight and featured a cartoon of a goat and koala in love, kittens, and Oprah riding a jet ski with Jesus and was the most entertaining, educational and shared black-out page. With all this business power and with slacktivists supporting via petitions and sharing of content, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee had to pay attention, adjust their thinking and when they met on January 18, 2012, Rep. Lamar Smith stated, "The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution".

Both examples have a true, undeniable vision coupled with plans and leaders that believe in something important and stands up for the common person. So, before you take interest in something to really affect some change through, look for these three things and if you do not find that they are all in place maybe you can stand up and move from slacktivist to activist.