Slacktivism

Last month, Rush Limbaugh died. This isn’t important to the issue, though it is worth knowing that it is good that he died, because in terms of harm reduction, he was stopped from causing more immense harm. Also, it’s bad that he died, because he didn’t die, screaming, in pain, over the course of multiple years, as the evils of his life were revisited on him showing that there is a just god. That his obituary will not be officially concluded with the best phrases, ‘in a humiliating shitting incident,’ or ‘after having tazed himself repeatedly in the balls,’ is a crime against the idea of at least comedic justice itself. What I’m saying is that Rush Limbaugh’s death should have been a lot funnier or a lot more painful, and the fact it was neither indicates that we do not live in a just world.

When  he died, I mentioned in an off-the-cuff complaint about Rush:

The terms ‘slacktivist’ and ‘feminazi’ are both if not directly his fault, were promoted heavily and entered mainstream through him. Both were terms used to criticise people for wanting to change the world for the better, and in both cases, were wrong.

Now, this isn’t false. Specifically, the term feminazi was Rush, because he was a garbage sewer who appealed to awful people who aren’t clever. But he didn’t coin the term slacktivist, even if he did use it to complain about, basically ‘kids these days’ way. He used it the way it’s generally used, which shows the kind of immense influence you can have with an AM radio program despite that format being primarily of interest to uhhh, old white racists with cars.

The thing is, ‘slacktivist’ is a term that started out as basically a Christian Youth Group term, and it started out as a type of recuperation. In 1995, Dwight Ozard and Fred Clark of The Cornerstone Festival, used the idea of ‘slacktivism’ to promote to their youth group audience to talk about activism that was personal, and also not disruptive. Like, their specific example is rather than attending a protest, why not plant a tree? I guess black people can hide from the gun-wielding cops behind them? I dunno.

The point is, conservative opinion of ‘slacktivism’ is interesting, because it started out, in their mind as a good thing, where youth action against power structures would be primarily diluted into things that were easier to do, and then became a term they used to disdain young people doing exactly those things. As with many things from Christian sources, you were given an idea of yourself, then told how that thing was bad.

Nowadays, slacktivism tends to be used to refer to the idea of people who are ‘doing online activism,’ which tends to take the form of ‘post more’, which is, you’ll find what Qanon people do. The thing is, that form of slacktivism is kind of actually good, anyway. Specifically, it finds that there’s a correlation between slacktivism and people doing active things in their society. In the 2011 study Dynamics of Cause Engagement from Georgetown University, so, it’s ten years old and hasn’t been subjected to ten years of non stop birdsite hell, people were surveyed based on how they engaged with social causes online, then, what they did and how they did it.

The study, available here for you to just go download and look at, was a compilation of a survey of 2,000 respondents. As with all sampling, there can be problems and biases. After all, you won’t have a hard time finding 2,000 assholes if you know where to look. The results of the survey involve a lot of self-reporting, but that information is then contrasted with (again, self-reported) information about what people do, to see how commonly there’s a correlation between people Posting About It and Doing Things About It on the internet.

And like… uh, it’s pretty stark. First, slacktivists aren’t less likely to donate money to causes, but when it comes to things like volunteering their time, taking part in events, making buying choices based on causes, drive things like call-your-congressperson events, recruiting people for petitions and raise money, slacktivists did more, and sometimes like ‘twice as often’ and sometimes ‘four times as often.’

Obviously, this being a survey is a perfectly fine way to find out what people say, but it’s hard to correlate that with more imperically measured forms of data. After all, it might be that everyone on the survey lied, which some people seem to think is extremely likely in scientific studies.

Part of this could also be biased: Younger people are on the internet, and Millenials and Zoomers are two of the most prosocial groups in history. It might just be a byproduct of us being born on a dying hellworld and watching literally every part of our reality we were taught blown up and burned by the people who already had everything.

The other thing is, this is a correlation. If you’re already someone who’s going to focus your day to day life on problems, your social media presence will probably reflect that. This study doesn’t suggest that slacktivists become more prosocial and do more to enact social change, just that slacktivists as observed are more prosocial.

There’s a lot of other stuff tizzied up in here. Like online discourse of leftists yelling at one another is spending energy on one another and not on common enemies, that Twitter has deformed things enough that the population may not comply to these trends any more, that the online population has gotten older and more boomerfied, that forces like Q have shown that social media reinforcing beliefs may uh, be something we want to control for rather than something that we just let happen open slather.

It’s important though, to remember that the people who want us to disdain ‘slacktivism’ are the people who wanted it to stay as just, you know, go plant a tree and don’t make a fuss, for Jesus.

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