Monday, April 25, 2011

Is 'Slacktivism' Too Harsh a Charge?

When many of my Facebook friends changed their profile photos to animated characters to "protest child abuse," I openly mocked it. How can a picture of a Powerpuff Girl possibly help change anything?

But maybe I was wrong. When I sat down with Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes for this cover story of The Advocate (that's Hughes on the left, with his partner, Sean Eldridge), I asked him about so-called "slacktivism," a term of derision for a generation of people who think they're being activists when they're really making pointless, passive gestures toward activism.

Hughes has a different perspective.

“So are they saying that if you tell a friend at lunch, ‘Hey, I care about global child abuse right now,’ that doesn’t matter? These arguments assume that following something is the end, not the beginning.” Change, Hughes asserts, begins with discourse. He went on to use Egypt as an example: The Facebook page created in honor of the death of Khaled Said was not a call to action, but merely a commemoration. "That was the equivalent of saying, 'I care about this,'" says Hughes. As detailed in this Feb. 5 New York Times cover story, that Facebook page became a clearinghouse for information about the protests that started to spring up. “People talk about what they care about, they share that with their friends, and when those movements are well-organized they can actually have real policy change.”

That pretty much sums up the legacy of Hughes' work at Facebook, and the basis of his latest venture, Jumo.com, a social networking hub for non-profits and NGO's worldwide to connect to people who "Care" (akin to Facebook's "Like") about their issues. After working at Facebook, Hughes ran social media for Obama's presidential candidacy. In other words, he knows a bit about making social change through online efforts. And though Jumo is very much a work-in-progress, it seems a promising tool to help anyone move from slacktivist to full-on activist. What it will take is the motivation. What motivates you to act?

Also read Fast Company's April 2009 cover story on Hughes.

2 comments:

  1. That is such an easy question. My grandchildren. I became an activist against toxic chemicals in the environment when I realized the state of the world my grandkids would inherit. Deplorable! Going to check out jumo.com. Thanks!

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  2. Though I'm in favor of anything that promotes awareness and discourse on social issues and non-profit causes, I'm still not buying Hughes' perspective. Slacktivism gives the false impression of "having done something good." And for many, merely dulling the sense of guilt in any capacity, even a passive gesture is enough rather than actually doing something to make the world a better place.

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