Can we really call online activism slacktivism?

I think there is a big difference between online activism and slacktivism, although people often use the terms synonymously. Just like I think there is a difference between cyberbullying and online harassment.

We all have the friends on social media who are slacktivists. We may have been tempted to or already have stopped following them as they share, like, and flood your network with controversial issues, but never seem to really do anything about it. Yet they feel like they are doing their part to bring about real social change and feel good about it.


Slacktivism in this essence frustrates me as it gives people who are actually fighting to provoke change a harder time to make a difference. I also wonder if the people who share these stories actually take the time to read them and make critical decisions on them or just share them because the title, photo and caption are captivating.

Slacktivists are criticized for people who just want the image of a change-maker, but aren’t actually doing anything to help. For example, they will post, share, and comment about issues, but it stops there. They won’t make a donation, volunteer, or organize a rally because they feel they have already done their part.

Photo Credit: danielito311 via Compfight cc

Just talking about social justice issues on social media isn’t going to drive social change and change the world, but it may be the reason something catches fire, cause others to do more and begin a social movement, it might move people from being passive viewers to active witnesses who see something and do something, or even get the conversation going. In using our voices on social media we can make the actions of a few active protesters visible to millions of people, all over the world. Although we might not have the capability or resources to be on the ground with the protesters fighting for change, we are able to use our voice to shed light on social justice issues.

Online activism is more than just sharing social justice issues through 140 characters, comments, and a clever hashtag.  Social media is just another outlet to use our voice and speak up about these causes. It helps to generate empathy around the issue and hopefully breaks the stigma of talking about it. However the activism shouldn’t stop there. You should strive to be a change maker, conversation starter, and active participant in offline spaces as well.

But maybe in the end the very essence of this post makes me a slacktivist? Or maybe, although it may be small, I am using my voice to start critical conversations and bring awareness?

What does it mean to be literate?

As Doug Belshaw discusses in his TEDx talk on ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’, we need to move beyond elegant consumption. Students (and teachers) should not only consume information in the digital world, but also engage with it. Belshaw describes this as digital literacies, rather than digital literacy, as it is not a linear concept. We should shift our thinking to a spectrum of literacies, rather than viewing digital literacy as either basic, intermediate, or advanced. There are many different literacies and varying levels. I compare this to the idea of digital immigrants vs. digital residents.

“Digital literacies effect your identity because every time you’re given a new tool, it gives you a different way of impacting upon the world.” – Doug Belshaw

Belshaw states that there are eight elements of digital literacies as shown below. We should look as these literacies as fluid and dynamic and not forget about the remix.

Slide via Doug Belshaw
Slide via Doug Belshaw

How does this shift our view as educators? Rather than looking at students as being digitally literate, we should engage them with digital literacies. Which takes it beyond technological skills, to 21st century learners and thinkers. Amy posted this week about “Seeing the Big Picture.” In her post she talks about technology being an essential tool during the learning process where students use complex skills to find, create, and share their learning.

Ashley brought up many important questions this week in regards to preparing 21st century workers. She also questions herself on if she is creating 21st century learners and if she is preparing her students for a future career. This is something that is important to her as a high school teacher, in that she is preparing students for their next steps in life. She wants to use technology to enhance learning in her classroom and not for the sake of just using it, but she has hit some roadblocks in the past with strict device policies.

Why are we still hitting so many roadblocks? Are they fear based policies? How can we help students along the continuum of digital literacies when it is not authentic? How can we shift this thinking to use technology to not only enhance learning, but also transform learning?

The demands of a 21st century learner are changing the way teachers look at educating. 21st century learners are no longer expected to just be literate in reading and writing, but rather are faced with multiple literacies. Teachers should reflect on the demands of the 21st century learner and a good place to start is the NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment.

How do we meet the demands of the 21st century learner?

I giggles when I saw the Pencil Metaphor on Integrating Technology in schools. I think many of us in this course (and others who are actively thinking about integrating technology) find themselves on various parts of the pencil… even though we don’t want to admit it!

We all want to take the plunge to be a “leader” or a “sharp one,” but on the same level we have some fears. Fears of the unexpected, the troubles, push back, and management. But are we doing our students a disservice by not integrating technology? Technology has impacted education since forever and I am guessing throughout the process, there has been some fear when new and emerging technologies came into the picture. We need to see the challenges and take the plunge aware that some things may not go as planned, but that is part of the process. We are teachers in the 21st century and we need meet the demands of our 21st century learners.

What’s the purpose?

Through the past few classes we have been looking at an introduction to media literacy, through that we have explored how the online world has changed over the years and how it is allowing us to be more connected. We are so connected online, the virtual and physical world are intertwined causing an augmented reality.

However, with more connections, it has left many of us wondering the pros and cons with being living in a connected cultulre. In Cortney Leonard’s blog on My Thoughts on Foundational Theories and Media Education, she talks about finding the balance in our lives between being connected online and being present in the moment. Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell has similar thoughts in her blog, Me… Programmed?? Are we Substituting Digital Connections for Real Connections?, asking the readers if being connected is changing the way we act. She continues to talk about our obsession over over-sharing our activities on social media. In addition, “the urgency to have someone else connect…” (Stewart-Mitchell, 2015).

Jason Howle via
Jason Howle via

These changes are causing educators around the world to educate themselves on media literacy and digital citizenship, which is why many of us are taking this course. On top of changing the way we act and trying to find balance, many people are using media in ways to spread negative messages, which is mentioned in Kirsten Hansen’s blog post, From Cyberbullying to Veneration and Homage. People haven’t been taught how to use digital world as responsible digital citizens.

My question to you is what is your purpose in online spaces? Is it just to make connections or is there a bigger picture?

Often as educators, we look to technology to serve as a resource, to make connections around the world, to answer questions quickly, and the list goes on. We turn to social media making tweets or posting just to make that connection. In my personal life, I browse Facebook, check Instagram, and write/respond to emails. But are we using online spaces to the fullest potential?

If we look at the Saskatchewan Digital Citizenship Continuum from K-12, there are three main elements RESPECT, EDUCATE, PROTECT. I feel that we as educators really focus on the EDUCATE and PROTECT strands, but often forget about the RESPECT strand. We have so much potential with the online community to change the world and to start modelling this to our students, but we often shy away from it. As Katia Hildebrant said in her blog, In online spaces, silence speaks as loudly as words, “I have a responsibility to use my privilege to speak out and use my network for more than just my own benefit or self-promotion; not doing so is a selfish act.” (Hildebrandt, 2015).

We can create change within our school communities. We can develop upstanders in a digital world. We can connect in meaningful ways. We need to talk about Social Media. We should continue to make connections, but how can we use those connections to make the world a better place?