by Merlyna Lim

Is social media activism merely slacktivism? Are the millennials largely slacktivist? What do millennials think about social media activism?

Undoubtedly, social media has revolutionized communication between individuals, brand-consumer interactions, and the way people receive news and information. However, the impact of political actions taken on social media has been subject to scrutiny; giving birth to a contemporary term known as “slacktivism”.

A portmanteau of slacker and activism, slacktivism refers to online actions that express support for a political or social cause but require minimal time and effort.

Typically coming from older generations who’re pointing fingers at the Millennials, critics claim that social media activism is slacktivist in nature. Using easy online actions like changing a profile picture or retweeting as their examples, they argue that social media activism does not result in actual change and are mere illusions of effective activism. However, supporters of social media activism argue that its critics fail to recognize the intricate relationship between citizens, governments, and social media. They claim that critics view political participation through outdated lenses, rather than a new Millennial perspective.

Five authors of this special issue, who are all millennials themselves, attempt to shift from this ongoing polemics. Produced while taking the COMS4317 Digital Media and Global Network Society undergraduate seminar, articles in this issue offer nuanced perspectives on the complex relationship between activism, slacktivism, and the millennials.

In “Is slacktivism the new millennial of social movements?” Cassandra Bates reflectively discusses the relationship between millennials and today’s media environment. Bates states that while “may be critiqued for being the slacktivism for social movements”, the millennials “see and understand the potential for digital media and are trying to give digital media a higher purpose than just memes on the internet.”

In “Activism and Social Media – Are We Really Making a Change?“, Vanessa Stirling points out some inherent problems associated with social media activism while at the same time recognizing the value of participating in causes that one genuinely care.

In “More than a Hashtag: The #MeToo Movement is 10 years in the Making“, Sable Frey contextualizes the #MeToo movement within a longer history, arguing that “social media movements begin in offline spaces, in the everyday lives and experiences of human beings [and] are rooted in social and political activism, and the need to speak up for what is right.”

In “From Slacktivism Back to Activism: How Social Media is Making A Comeback“, Carley Hutchinson recognizes that “online activism does not replace physical protest in the real world” and yet contends that “social media activism is extremely powerful in sharing information on a global scale, organizing bodies, and inspiring conversations – all of which are essential steps in creating a social movement”.

In “Who Does Online Activism Actually Benefit? Hint: It’s You!“, Riley Cooper argues that the main factor that contributes to whether social media activism may lead to slacktivism is “YOU”, the user themselves. Cooper dares you to “ask yourself whether your tweet or status is going to actually affect the people involved, or if you’re really just doing it for your image.”