Slacktivism – Never Mistake Motion for Action

Three weeks in and the dust has settled on Kony”, unless you live under a rock with dodgy wi-fi and a faulty modem you can’t have missed all the hoo-hah. The ‘Make Kony Famous’ video quickly racked up 70 million views in a matter of hours, a task which took Susan Boyle a whole six days, and has now reached in excess of 100 million views; not to mention an innumerable amount of Kony-related tweets and Facebook posts.

Whilst this is all well and good (and I’m sure will make a fascinating infographic), it will make little difference on the ground in Africa, and fails to get to grips with the real, and more complicated than a 29-minute documentary can explain, situation within Uganda, Sudan, CAR and the Congo, where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is also active.

The Make Kony (not to mention Jason Russell) Famous documentary was essentially one massive awareness campaign, not a call to action. The majority of us had never heard of this guy Kony beforehand, but now we know him – success for the main objective. Yet awareness and social media will do very little to end atrocities in Africa. But Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber have shared the link so we  must follow.

The film has received significant criticism across the web for various reasons:

  • questions over the finances and transparency of Invisible Children;
  • links to evangelical Christianity;
  • Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda or now dead;
  • support for a military dictatorship, which has committed crimes just as bad as the LRA;
  • glitzy shots of the planet, Hollywood-style production values and a high-impact soundtrack are perfect for attracting an audience but self-defeating in getting them to give money;
  • it does not focus on the issue of civil war and development, instead it is focused on one man;
  • it is another example of the white man’s burden of having to share a video to save the black man in Africa;
  • it makes a hero of a heinous criminal while making money for its creators.

But perhaps most strikingly, the film and similar campaigns promote ‘slacktivism’. Once you’ve seen one Kony 2012 video you’ve seen them all.

A previous blog posted by a colleague of mine states “the social media revolution can offer us the chance to help create, contribute and form news agendas much faster than traditional media ever can”. But how engaged are we with this social media revolution, if we really are experiencing a social media revolution at all?

In 2009, Twitter was predicted to help topple the communist government in Moldova; as for Iran – what happened with its 2010 Twitter revolution? There was no true Twitter revolution in either country, just a bunch of Westerners tweeting in English. The same is true of the Arab Spring; there was no social media revolution tweeted in Arabic, and there certainly won’t be one in Uganda.

What all these “social media revolutions” have in common, is once the Twitter noise has died down, it is still unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality of conflict resolution.

Using social media to clients advantage is part and parcel of PR, but effective PR is more than just awareness rising.  An effective campaign needs to have action backed up by social media, not social media back up by social media. The effectiveness and longevity of the global ‘Occupy’ movements was due to the fact it was based in action supported by social media.

The problem with slacktivism is it allows us to believe we are making a difference and that social or political change can occur through the click of a button. This kind of social action is based in the moment and rarely leads to prolonged engagement. These campaigns let us absolve ourselves of responsibility. We think we have done something about *insert tragedy here*, by telling others about it.

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Campaigning organisations and PR’s should stop launching cheesy stunts and peddling propaganda that decision makers simply ignore, and instead encourage supporters to find and engage with a cause they believe in and actively lobby for change.

While campaigns like this are effective in that they are quick and easy, taking only seconds to tweet or share, they do not create long-lasting change. Slacktivism doesn’t build momentum for the next stage of the campaign.

Unless as PR’s we can present an issue in a way that compels slacktivists to act, their cause will ultimately fall foul of the old adage: “After all is said and done, a lot more will have been said than done.”

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