Why Do-Gooders Need To Steer Clear Of Online 'Slacktivism'
Using social media for social justice helps neither the world nor your mental health.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | November 6, 2023
In today's socio-political climate, activism unfolds on social media at lightning speed. Despite the good intentions many may have when engaging in activism online, this drive for change is steadily turning into "slacktivism"—digital support for social and political causes without effort or commitment—which can be harmful for both the cause and the slacktivist.
When our news outlets are riddled with images of war and conflict that don't affect us, our minds go through mental conflict too. We feel terribly for those affected by these events, and we feel thankful that we do not have to suffer through it ourselves. From there, many may feel guilt and shame at their own relief, and might begin wondering how they can make a difference from their safe corner of the world.
From Guilt To Performative 'Slacktivism'
Ridden with guilt, people usually take to social media to show their support. Unaffected yet caring individuals might make a post, change their profile picture or reshare a statement regarding the cause they are concerned with.
These displays of solidarity can make us feel better about our detachment from these events, and can act as a medium of awareness for such causes. However, when online activism is practiced without intention or critical awareness, it can promote slacktivism, which is often critiqued for requiring only a minimal display of support for a cause, as well as lacking intention to make efforts to enact meaningful change.
A 2022 study revealed that while many millennials were aware that online activism was the least effective method of enacting change, this was still the most commonly engaged form of activism.
The participants in the study believed that their peers likely were advocating for causes online for the sake of approval from others. However, they believed that these people would give differing motivations upon questioning their intentions—almost as if trying to keep up with a curated persona, which can become draining.
How 'Slacktivism' Can Be Taxing On Your Mental Health
While studies do show that slacktivism can be harmless and even productive in some cases, persistently engaging in slacktivism for the sake of saving face and gaining social approval could actually be taxing to your well-being in various ways:
- Emotional exhaustion. Engaging in performative activism without genuine commitment can be emotionally draining. It could lead to a disconnection from your emotions, as you may be more focused on the appearance of your activism rather than the underlying issues. This can prevent you from fully processing your feelings and lead to emotional burnout. You could even become desensitized to the causes you claim to support.
- Hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. Participating in slacktivism can create a conflict between your stated values and actual actions. This incongruity, known as cognitive dissonance, can lead to feelings of guilt and hypocrisy. You might find it challenging to reconcile your online advocacy with your real-world behavior. This internal conflict can harm your self-esteem and overall mental well-being as you grapple with the inconsistency between your beliefs and actions.
- Shallow social connections. When you engage in activism primarily for the sake of appearances, the relationships you form might be based on superficial attributes rather than shared values or genuine connections. This can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness, as it becomes difficult to engage in meaningful conversations and build deep, authentic relationships with others.
- Loss of personal agency. Slacktivism can create a false sense of accomplishment. Posting online may give you the illusion of contributing to a cause, but in reality, you may be doing very little to bring about meaningful change. This false sense of achievement can lead to a loss of personal agency. You might become complacent and less motivated to take real-world actions, which can negatively impact your self-efficacy and overall well-being.
- Stress and anxiety. Maintaining a curated online persona as an activist can be stressful. You might constantly worry about how you are perceived by your online community. The fear of making mistakes or holding nuanced views, which may not align with the prevailing narrative, can contribute to stress and anxiety. The pressure to conform to a particular image of an activist can be detrimental to mental health.
In the era of online activism, the rise of slacktivism has cast a shadow over the well-intentioned efforts to support social and political causes. While digital displays of solidarity can raise awareness, their unintended consequences weigh heavily on our mental well-being. When we spend more time crafting and sharing the perfect social media post, we may neglect to take meaningful, real-world actions. This can be frustrating and disheartening, as it can prevent tangible change from occurring, both in our own lives and in society as a whole. While reflecting on the harms of slacktivism, we must strive for more meaningful and purpose-driven activism to safeguard our mental health and create a better world.