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March 19, 2014 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Does slacktivism work? Using a series of field and laboratory experiments, the authors found that those who engage in slacktivism can and do sometimes engage more deeply. "In other words, those whose initial act of support is done more privately (for example, writing to a member of Congress) are more likely to engage in deeper, more costly forms of engagement later on. Those whose initial support is public (i.e. through posting to Facebook or Twitter) are less likely to engage more deeply. Moreover, the researchers find that most appeals for token engagement “promote slacktivism among all but those highly connected to the cause.”

more:

New Data Proves 'Please ReTweet' Generates 4x More ReTweets

Paper on how advocacy groups use social media.

Link to abstract of gated paper.

However
, "showing public support for a cause via social media without actually contributing time or resources -- could result in fewer donations."
posted by MisantropicPainforest (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
huh, well, in for a penny I guess.
posted by rebent at 7:06 AM on March 19


"Slacktivism" seems like an asshole way of describing something other people are doing cuz you asked them to.
posted by grobstein at 7:30 AM on March 19


Reminds me of the admonishment to pray in private instead of in public.
posted by charred husk at 7:33 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Anecdotally, this is what we find at my NPO: "showing public support for a cause via social media without actually contributing time or resources -- could result in fewer donations."
posted by crush-onastick at 7:39 AM on March 19 [6 favorites]


In other words, those whose initial act of support is done more privately (for example, writing to a member of Congress) are more likely to engage in deeper, more costly forms of engagement later on. Those whose initial support is public (i.e. through posting to Facebook or Twitter) are less likely to engage more deeply.

In for a penny, in for a pound. In for a click, yo, not really in at all.

It certainly is unhip that old-fashioned 20th century letter writing beats the snot out of "social media."
posted by three blind mice at 7:40 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Anecdotally, this is what we find at my NPO: "showing public support for a cause via social media without actually contributing time or resources -- could result in fewer donations."

It makes sense, people already "did something" so feel less inclined to donate.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:45 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: I think you're reading it wrong. It's not the physical act of writing, but rather that "Send a letter to your congressperson" (i.e. go on their contact form and send an email) beats out "Please ReTweet" in terms of correlation to later contribution to organizational activities. It makes sense - filling out a form takes more effort and makes you feel like a participant, while public sharing takes less effort and allows a more superficial engagement.
posted by graymouser at 7:45 AM on March 19


There was a comment years ago, probably here on Mefi, that described how politicians interpret different kinds of lobbying actions and use them to estimate public support for causes and issues in the absence of polling data. For example, one person writing a letter probably represented at least five voters, someone marching in a protest represented twenty, someone buying a bumper sticker was rated about two votes, that sort of thing. I wonder if Facebook likes and retweets are on that scale today, and how heavily they are weighted.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:04 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Whatever the effect is on the big picture, I know that becoming aware of stuff through social media campaigns has personally prompted me to take IRL action on occasion. So, if something that takes a minimum of effort produces a few results, at least it's not a TOTAL loss.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:06 AM on March 19


Well yeah, if you want something to happen actually contacting your congressperson may bring better results than throwing tweets into a black hole. One of the reasons I've disengaged from most politics is because people blankly fail to do anything substantive, not even send a "way to go!" email from a contact form, to advocate for positions that they claim are important to them. Posting chain junk on twitter or facebook is just about the laziest form of political "activism" there is, an accomplishes nothing. Surprise.

It does let me know which of my friends are insane and think that the Girl Scouts are an evil organization, or that the UN is going to take away our guns.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:06 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I hate the world "slacktivism" because it makes it sound like on can affect change in the world by sitting back and docilely mooing for it, one Facebook click at a a time.

The Dude may well abide, but he doesn't have much input one way or another on drone strikes, immigration policy, or cannabis legalization.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:14 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Facebook likes and retweets are on that scale today, and how heavily they are weighted.

Recently in the US (couple of years ago) there was some ruling about Federal gencies could ignore auto-generated emails and the like from constituent "slacktivists" because it was felt that any yahoo (or robot) could pump those out with th flick of a finger and it didn't represent any serious sentiment.

Now, put pen to paper, a real human had to expend calories to do that. I suspect Facebook Likes & retweets are looked on as pacifiers for the mob. "oh good, they have a button to push. That'll keep them occupied".
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:21 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Are they defining "slacktivism" inversely to how I perceive it? Or is the phrasing of the OP slightly off?
posted by symbioid at 8:37 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


is 'slactivism' actually a meaningful concept? I.e., can it be meaningfully distinguished from other forms of activism? and if so, does the lede experiment actually test that?

I mean, it's a stupid term, and I understand that sometimes we have to use the common terms, but -- well, it's a stupid term.

on edit: i guess this is similar to what symbioid is asking.
posted by lodurr at 9:06 AM on March 19


I am TOTALLY on board with educating people that likes do nothing at all, and that awareness doesn't feed the hungry. In terms of issues that relate to poverty and lack of resources, or structural issues related to public policy-- public education campaigns should seek to get more out of people that just likes.

HOWEVER... education is something that this is generating which is awesome.

Sometimes educating the public results in people treating each other differently in interpersonal ways that don't turn into "deeper" activism but change lives regardless. The idea that all social change can be monitered based on level of donations to non-profits is missing that huge ranges of types of social change can occur outside of the non-profit model.

It might be something as "little" as people knowing how to respond to a friends recent assault without saying really horrible victim blaming things-- it might be as "little" as people looking out for each other while out at a bar to prevent an assault, it might be as "little" as people choosing not to judge the poor single mom for being on welfare and accept her as a fellow human being rather than avoiding her or muttering behind her back about her shameful existance, it might be as "little" as supporting someone going through a mental illness or who is going through a gender transition---- it might be as "little" as celebrating a family members gay marriage instead of shaming them or ostracizing them. It might be that someone starts buying fair trade chocolate or sugar because they hear about working conditions that are horrific, it might be that someone refrains from saying those slightly racist things they didn't think were "really" racist.

These things are not little even if the people who read them never make a donation to a charity or become effective policy changers. They are changing the "policy" of how we treat each other. And those things matter very deeply.

I totally agree that helping people be more effective at making REAL change should be a thing that we do. It's just, sometimes people are doing all they can, and all they can is to read something, learn from it, and share it. I still think it's better than nothing.
posted by xarnop at 9:18 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


And I do think some types of sharing might be harmful if they literally DETRACT from further activism or donations to a specific cause-- and that's important to note, I just don't want people to see all education about issues being shared on the internet as innately shameful and something to talk people out of doing or make fun of them for being "slactivists" if they share something about the horrific conditions people face when they report assault or what sorts of racism real people still face in the US for example.
posted by xarnop at 9:21 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Can I just say that writing a letter to your Congressman is the opposite of slacking? There is almost nothing that an regular guy or gal can do which is more powerful in impacting public policy, especially on issues on which there is not obvious and irrevocable partisan alignment. Your typical Congressman is more likely to change his vote if he gets 100 constituent letters urging him too than if 500 people protest for it in front of his district office, or 100,000 people protest for it on the Capitol Mall.
posted by MattD at 10:21 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Turning your Facebook profile pic to some logo typically has fairly negligible educational benefit.
posted by PMdixon at 10:36 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


When I see people standing up for my causes it feels good to me, like less like I've been discarded by a totally unfeeling society that hates the needy. It's nice to know you aren't hated or judged by at least few people. If it really does make things worse that's a problem I just don't want people to think silence and avoidance are superior choices to affirmations of support.
posted by xarnop at 11:30 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Your typical Congressman is more likely to change his vote if he gets 100 constituent letters urging him too than if 500 people protest for it in front of his district office, or 100,000 people protest for it on the Capitol Mall.

I hear this a lot, but I'm skeptical. Is there any indication this is actually the case? I feel like the 100 constituent letters would be about as effective as 1000 Facebook likes if a lobbyist with Super Bowl tickets came in with a differing opinion.
posted by Mooski at 11:43 AM on March 19


I hear this a lot, but I'm skeptical. Is there any indication this is actually the case? I feel like the 100 constituent letters would be about as effective as 1000 Facebook likes if a lobbyist with Super Bowl tickets came in with a differing opinion.


100 real emails > 100 AstroTurf letters. The latter make up the vast majority of constituent mail that Capitol Hill interns have to wade through.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 12:18 PM on March 19


I've had a hunch for a long time that the autoform emails aren't really accomplishing anything. The way you used to push people to make contact was to send them to the contact page for their congressperson, or inject their congressperson's email address. But that stopped; I can imagine a couple of reasons:
  1. can't control the messaging as well if you're letting them talk for themselves;
  2. you'll get more emails sent which gives you superficially better metrics if you can grease the skids for them.
I have to think the trend away from facilitating the private engagement to facilitating the quasi-astroturfed engagement (I'm not sure it really amounts to that, but, another time...) resulted mostly from these two trends exacerbating one another: messaging people wanted message discipline; wonks wanted metrics.
posted by lodurr at 12:33 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Likes and retweets are basically 21st century lawn signs-- they let people tell themselves that they're "doing something," but don't actually accomplish jack shit.
posted by dersins at 8:27 AM on March 21


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