Why slacktavists are crucial to social movements

SlacktivistSlacktavism is something I’ve touched upon a number of times in the past few years, with a general inference that the web has encouraged a rise in rather superficial support levels.

It’s not all bad however, with a study published in 2014 suggesting it can have some benefits.  The authors suggest that it is a case of marginal gains, with seemingly small shows of support adding up to something significant, even if in isolation they seem trivial.

The value of slacktavism

A recently published paper has a similarly positive impression of slacktavists.  It suggests that they are actually crucial to the wider spread of social movements.

The study saw the analysis of a few million tweets made around various social protests from around the world.  The researchers examined the geolocation of each tweet.

By doing this, they were able to distinguish between people at the protest site and those who joined in from afar.  They were also able to construct a detailed picture of the social networks of each tweeter, and how far their message spread.

The authors contend that social media can play a crucial role in spreading the reach of a movement, even if participants aren’t there on the ground.

“Of course social media doesn’t push you to risk your life and take to the streets,” they say, “but it helps the actions of those who take the risk to gain international visibility.”

Protest vs non-protest

Of course, there has been a huge amount of interest in discerning how ideas and concepts spread through social networks, and the researchers discovered distinct differences between the spread in protests versus non-protests.

During protests, there is typically a strong core of people who are very active in generating the bulk of the messages and content.  This content is then spread and amplified by the wider majority.

In isolation these people may appear to be slacktavists, but whilst they do relatively little compared to those at the core of the movement, their small contributions add up to a lot, and significantly extend the reach of the content generated by the core group.

As such, the authors contend that successful movements actually need both groups in order to succeed, which is a realization that few are currently prepared to accept, with the world seemingly enthral to the ‘influencers’ only.

“If you want a product to go viral or you want a protest to grow, you need that influential core, but you also need the periphery echoing them,” the researchers say. “Peripheral users are not ‘slacktivists.’ They are quintessential to understand why products go viral or protests go big.”

Hopefully this provides you with some food for thought.  You can hear the authors talk about their study in the video below.


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