Slacktivism is a portmanteau formed from the words slacker and activism. Slacktivism is a term used to describe easy, painless or feel-good measures undertaken in support of a social cause1. Urban Dictionary defines slacktivism as the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem 2.

The web site (Barbara Mikkelson) offers the following expanded definition of the term: "Slacktivism comes in many forms, but its defining characteristic is its central theme of doing good with little or no effort on the part of the person inspired to participate, through the mechanisms of forwarding, exhorting, collecting, or e-signing. 3

Also known as 'latte activism', slacktivism is the ethical equivalent of armchair athletics, but with more opportunity to affect the final medal tally4. Mainly using the internet, slacktivists support causes through email blasts, internet petitions, joining Facebook sites and posting YouTubevideos. Slacktivism also takes the form of wearing wristbands which support or raise awareness for a particular cause 5.

Slacktivists often participate in short term boycotts such as the annual Buy Nothing Day--a day of protest against over-consumerism.

Supporters and Detractors

Those who support the notion of slacktivism do so because they believe it provides an outlet for those who want to better the world or contribute to a cause but do not have the time or perhaps resources to contribute in a grander, more hands-on way. Through the signing of an internet petition, for example, an individual can feel they have made a difference.

Opponents feel strongly that to truly make a difference in the world, individuals must get up off the sofa and get involved. Further, many e-petitions, email chains, wrist band campaigns, are fraudulent and do not truly support a real organization, individual or cause. Additionally, merely feeling that a6 change has been made is often enough to allow the status quo to stand--to never truly be challenged, modified or improved.

Public Relations and Organizational Slacktivism

The Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch 7 posits that many corporations utilize organized slacktivism through public relations strategies to subtly derail social movements aimed at creating social change. The work of tobacco companies to counter the increase in non-smoking areas in late 1980's and early 1990s provides a perfect example. As smoking became less socially acceptable, the Philip Morris tobacco company developed a public relations campaign to promote 'harmony' between smokers and non-smokers 8. Their campaign involved lobbying for smoking rooms within restaurants and bars, and the promotion of these rooms as an important policy needed to ensure smokers would not be discriminated against. The public accepted the campaign and supported designated smoking areas--the smoke, however, did not stay within the confines of the designated area.

The campaign was hugely successful in that it allowed smokers to continued smoking virtually everywhere and allowed non-smokers to feel a real change had been made to protect their health. In reality, nothing had changed--people just believed it had.

For Further Information

Slactivists are the New Activists NPR radio show, September 11, 2008

Earle, R. (2000) The art of cause marketing:how to use advertising to change personal behaviour and public policy.McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.