By now we have all heard about the controversy surrounding Walter James Palmer killing Cecil the Lion. We´ve displayed our dismay on social media – tweeted our condemnation, posted a picture of Cecil on Tumblr, and written an outraged Facebook status, all the while waiting for the likes and comments of support to come in. In a nutshell, we have fulfilled our socially enforced obligations when it comes to political participation.
The Oxford Dictionary defines slacktivism as: “Actions performed via the internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website.”
The definition for slacktivism describes the bare minimum of political engagement that someone would have to participate in to feel truly politically active. However you´re not even achieving that – creating a Facebook status to seem involved without action behind it – is not real political engagement. The more likes you get on that Facebook status – only serves to stroke your ego, but it does nothing really to stop other poaching tragedies from occurring again.
This desire to stroke one’s ego through faux political engagement is not limited to the realm of social media. During my Erasmus exchange in Germany, I briefly participated in the Amnesty International group. What I found telling about my time participating is that often the people with the loudest political opinions in class, were the very same people who refused to sign petitions or even pick up a pamphlet. While they were happy to espouse their political opinions in class or to their Facebook network, the minute an audience was no longer present they ceased to care, they became disinterested.
The barrage of criticism that has been hurled at Walter James Palmer is valid; what he did was reprehensible and he should be called out on his actions. All your statuses, reposts, and tweets are also valid and important – because they create discourse, and discourse is necessary for change. However discourse without action changes nothing, especially when that discourse is limited to your network of people with similarly interests.
Write that angry Facebook status, leave that passive aggressive comment on a news article, and retweet to your hearts content. But then take that fervour and transform it into something productive. Turn those angry, emotional, heartfelt words into something eloquent that can be sent to for example your local businesses that transport hunting trophies. If you´re too lazy to do that – donate a dollar to support wildlife conservation, and post a link with your next Facebook status.
Take a look at your Facebook timeline for 2015 so far; how many angry Facebook statuses have you made so far this year? Only to forget about them – never following up, except when you have had a couple too many glasses of red wine at Peter´s birthday party and decide that now is the correct time to debate [insert political causes]. In fact in the space between the death of Cecil and the publication of this article, I am sure that many of you have already began to change your Facebook statuses from outrage over Cecil´s death to statuses condemning Cara Delevingne ´s interviewers, or whatever other issue is in vogue right now. This article isn´t really about Cecil, but rather Cecil is a metaphor for every issue you have stood up for and then discarded so far this year.
So no, you´re not a slacktivist – because a slacktivist does at least the bare minimum amount of work required for political engagement.
So in the famous words of Elvis Presley – perhaps it’s time for “a little less conversation.”