global English language change and slang

Cut me some slacktivism

mkpa

We all want to make a meaningful difference, and to have our voices heard, but our days are busy and there are times when all we can do is click a button. Sometimes, therefore, modern activism gets no further than clicktivism. We forward an email, ‘like’ a Facebook page, retweet a worthy cause, add a ribbon to our avatar, or otherwise register our approval of this or our disapproval of that in a matter of seconds.

It’s not always the case, of course. Online campaigns can be very useful in organising and reporting on offline events, and many organisations and campaigns have a presence in both spheres and coordinate them skilfully. It’s vital that they do, in order to overcome slacktivism (also spelled slactivism).

Slacktivism was formed by blending slacker with activism. Whereas activism is all about active engagement, slacktivists prefer to limit their involvement to the bare minimum. This is not the only way of interpreting the word slacktivist – it can also be used in a positive sense – but it’s much more likely to be pejorative, referring to the act of contributing to a cause without any significant risk, commitment, or sacrifice.

Given the ease of manipulating online information, underhanded tactics are inevitable. One technique that has attracted a lot of attention is astroturfing. This extends a familiar metaphor: since AstroTurf is fake grass, astroturfing is a fake grass roots campaign. It’s a deceptive form of advocacy that appears as a groundswell of passionate opinion, but is often secretly financed by corporations or other well-organised groups with a vested interest in swaying political policy or the public mood.

Hacktivism is another kind of online activism. Hacktivists, as Kerry’s BuzzWord article reports, deliberately interfere with online data and services for ideological reasons. If you’re saying these words aloud, it’s best to aspirate the ‘h’ so listeners won’t hear them as activism and activist.

Such “armchair warrior” forms of protest are often decried – I’ve come across the derisive term nano-activism a few times – but if the numbers game is played well enough, it too can be effective: all those nano-’s might add up to a micro– or even a milli-.

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Stan Carey

4 Comments

  • Stan, the isms have me exhausted, is nothing sacred anymore? I would love to see your take on a variation of this – I attended a seminar recently and the guest speaker was introduced as an economist, clinical (I kid you not) criminologist and psychologist. Makes me long for ‘men’ and ‘women’ but I see from your blog even this is at risk, in Sweden. “Slacktivist”, it’s a wonderful word nonetheless!

  • Helen: Sounds like an interesting seminar! Clinical criminology is a curious one. Knowing little about the area, I presume it mainly involves psychology of criminals – behaviour, assessment, treatment, and so on. Maybe with side orders of law and forensics. I bet the field has been booming in recent years on account of popular TV shows like The Wire, Law and Order and the CSI series. I hope the talk was worthwhile!

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