Fuhrman-Kestler: The case for slacktivism

Slacktivism critics will say Ice Bucket Challenge celebrity videos are the most egregious examples of attention-seeking hidden behind a cause. I disagree completely.

The term slacktivism is often used pejoratively, dismissing the simple actions taken by those who want to support a cause without much effort. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge certainly has caught on, in part, because of the simple call to action. However, slacktivists are criticized for more than the laziness of their support. Some call to question slacktivists’ integrity.

I’ve recently read a few articles on how the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is only the latest example of narcissism disguised as altruism. The articles make some fair points, noting that a hashtag is incapable of bringing back our girls and that Kony still remains at large despite an impressive number of video views. Will a bucket full of ice water cure ALS? Does every person who posts a video even know what ALS is? No. But, that’s OK. 

Social media amplifies the voices of individuals. Opinions that may never have been heard beyond the dinner table are now reaching the masses. Vacation photos that in a pre-digital era may not have left their paper envelopes are viewed by friends, families, and strangers. Whenever we post to social media, there is a degree of vanity. What we photograph, which words we choose, which brands we like, and what content we share all are a reflection of our desire to create a certain brand for ourselves. For many, part of that personal brand is built by sharing one’s core beliefs. At certain moments, specific core beliefs become particularly trendy or even fashionable. Does that mean bandwagoners are insincere? My answer is, "who cares?"

Countless celebrities have taken the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some videos are funny, such as Amy Schumer donning a pair of granny panties and nominating among others, Bob Newhart. Others are wildly creative, like Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters recreating the iconic blood-dumping scene from Carrie. Slacktivism critics will say these celebrity videos are the most egregious examples of attention-seeking hidden behind a cause. I disagree completely. Celebrities have significant reach and influence. They are succeeding in keeping ALS in the news for far longer than the organic spread of everyday individuals participating in the challenge.

Using your social reach to stand up for a cause is productive. It will not directly produce a cure for ALS, but it produces awareness and dialogue. Eventually, this craze will pass. Few people not directly affected by ALS will continue discussing it. But, this campaign was effective beyond awareness-raising. It significantly increased donations, taking in $31.5 million to date, compared with $1.9 million raised last year. More than 600,000 donors are new donors.

As every philosophy student debates, there may be no such thing as a selfless act. Whether you don a pink boa and walk for three days straight, give up time to spend with disadvantaged children, or pour a bucket of ice water over your head, there is some satisfaction derived from doing the right thing. Social media has created an easy way to support a cause. There have been huge spikes in conversations and a record-breaking amount of money raised to combat a terrible disease, and for that reason, I am #ProSlacktivism.

Jennifer Fuhrman-Kestler is digital director for healthcare at Golin.

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