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The dangers of Slacktivism

posted 5 Apr 2012, 02:49 by David Sherlock   [ updated 24 May 2012, 07:33 ]

Slacktivism was originally a derogatory term to describe lazy activism. Tweet ribbons, online petitions and pre worded angry emails are all tools of the slactivist. Recently (if Reddit trend is anything to go by) the slacktivist has become somewhat of a hero, the recent SOPA saga being pointed to as an example of successful slacktivism. I am myself am somewhat of a slacktivism as I am more likely to buy a computer game/bundle if I know the money is going to go to charities and the developer instead of EA. 

There is a flipside to being able to voice your support with so little effort. On March 5, 2012 Jason Russel released a short film through the activist group invisible children. The video entitled Kony 2012 had the aim to:

“make indicted Ugandan war criminal and International Criminal Court fugitive Joseph Kony globally known in order to have him arrested by December 2012, the time when the campaign expires”

The video was well produced and high production values, it pulled all the right strings and the video went viral. As of today the video stands at around 90 million views.

The video targets the slacktervist mentality of pressing the share button, posting it facebook, playing the good guy and then forgetting about it. I won't disagree that Kony and the LRA are horrible people but the video didn't seem right to me. I knew that some of the facts were plain wrong or bent out of shape a little. For a start I was pretty sure Kony hadn't been in Uganda for a long time, I was also very shocked at some of the numbers that the video was giving. It only took a quick Google search to find out that Jason had been very flexible with these numbers, also a few minutes more research told me that the impression the video was giving of the u.s government involvement (or lack of) was completely false.

90 Million views later the video was a success and everybody knows about Kony, well done slacktervists. The danger I see here is that the slactervists championed the video without questioning it. Why would Jason feel the need to bend the truth? It doesn't take much background research on Jason to find out that Kony is not the only thing he Jason promotes. It suddenly all becomes very bitter. Turns out Jason is an an unhinged conservative christian who does regular talks on the subject of how to promote christianity without your audience knowing you are promoting christianity. 

Invisible Children/Jason Russel spend a huge amount of money making well polished videos aimed at slacktervists, where did this money come from? Turns out it was some pretty horrible homophobic 'christian' groups. After the success of the Kony video Jason goes on tour to promote the video. His message? Its all about Jesus. So Jason, what was that about finding stealthy ways to get to your audience?

While I think slacktervism has done a great job in some instances (SOPA?) don't get carried away with slactivism. Firstly it was not hard to research the facts in the video to find out that they were wrong and secondly to find out some information on the organisation behind it. I think Kony and the LRA are doing horrible things but Jason's real aim here is not just to bring Kony to public attention, but to promote himself, his organisation and his own message latching onto something he knows will catch the public eye.

Before you tweet your support, check who you are supporting.