In the last decade, social media has transformed how people relate to each other and the rest of the world. For people who experienced their adolescence before the Internet, this digital world can sometimes seem like a simulacrum of the “real thing.” Most of us have heard complaints about “slacktivism” on their social media feeds, the phenomenon where people post about advocacy issues they care about on social media.
Critics of slacktivism believe that social media posts amount to little more than making the poster feel briefly good about him or herself. While I initially bristled at the idea that social media advocacy could be effective, over the past year I’ve fallen in line with my millennial brethren. Here are five pieces of evidence that “slacktivism” is anything but slacking — and that we should all be using this low-investment, high-yield form of engagement to get what we want from policymakers.
- Policymakers use Facebook and Twitter as an index for deciding what issues to work on. Contrary to some people's beliefs, posts on Facebook actually do influence the democratic process. Some definitive proof? At the first Democratic debate, the moderator cited Facebook status updates, rather than polling, to describe what issues were relevant to constituents.
- Just a few social media comments make an outsized impact on a legislator. Traditional forms of individual advocacy might include letter writing or calling your representative’s office. While these are still useful, there is new evidence that social media comments—both on a legislator’s page and on important topics—have even more impact than these traditional approaches. A recent report noted that just 30 comments on a social media post would be enough to get a policymaker’s attention.
- Some of the most successful recent advocacy campaigns have been social media based. From the ice bucket challenge to the Human Rights Coalition’s profile picture takeover to the (infamous) Joseph Kony videos, social media is is a powerful breeding ground for activism that can have enormous, wide-reaching, and powerful impacts.
- Social media keeps you (and your representative) informed. With the barrage of information that we all face on a daily basis, social media has become a way for people to keep on top of major issues. Policymakers reportedly believe that the Internet has made it easier for people to engage on public policy and that they have to be more responsive to their constituents because of their engagement.
- Slacktivism is a gateway drug for more advocacy. Studies show that if you are willing to use your social media networks to promote a cause or issue, you’re more likely to volunteer and participate, and to donate or solicit donations from others, with the result that you are on average nearly twice as engaged as the average American.
The takeaways? Social media is one of the best ways to stay informed — and keep your community informed about issues that matter. Writing or responding to a policymaker on Twitter or Facebook has a huge impact. Sharing a story about public lands, wildfires or climate change does not go unnoticed. And, most importantly, discussing issues online or in person are the pre-cursor to citizens getting more involved on issues that matter — and that’s what it’s all about.