To Top

Are You a Token Activist?

When you wake up in the morning, there’s a good chance you check your news feed before your feet swing out from under the sheets. When you go to bed, Facebook’s friendly, blue-lit face might be one of the last ones you see before you close your eyes. This is in no way a criticism of you or your personal habits; rather, it is a pretty well-founded prediction based upon behavior seen across huge samples of young adults living in today’s technology-fraught world.

Though we all use social media to different extents, there is no doubt that it has a huge impact on our daily lives. Now more than ever, Facebook and the like have become critical platforms on which users can denounce some events and share their support for others; organize events and protest others; and demonstrate to their peers how socially aware and informed they are. You constantly know the thoughts and opinions of your peers, and it’s likely that you might have, at least once or twice, taken to social media to share your thoughts.

But a recent Psychology Today article, “Safety Pins for Slackers,” suggests that this use of social media as a performative mode of activism may actually be doing more harm than good.

This isn’t to say that using social media to state your beliefs and support the things you care about is a bad thing; isn’t broadcasting your thoughts to the world the exact idea behind the thing, and what makes it so tempting to people of our demographic? Yet studies have shown that the simple act of clicking that “like” or “share” button, or even of carefully crafting a cathartic status post, reduces the user’s incentive to act beyond the screen. The article equates the need to take political action to a “psychological itch that needs scratching”. When activists take to social media to vent their frustrations, the itch is scratched. They no longer feel the need to take further, productive action, even if their initial intentions to do so were good. Instead, they are satisfied that they have contributed to their cause and represented themselves well to their peers, and they move on.

You can see the problem here. This “slacktivism,” or “token activism,” creates a society in which constructive actions that could enact change are substituted by small but public examples of social media activity.

In order to subvert this tendency to mindlessly “like” and move on, the article’s author, Dr. Feldman of Santa Clara University, suggests to consciously take a moment to pause and reflect first. Studies have shown that asking participants to do so increases their chances of continuing to extend their activism beyond the realm of social media and into the real world.

Additionally, feel free to visit an article we formerly wrote about one of our sponsors, the social action platform Be a Doer. In our interview, the founder and CEO of Be a Doer describes the phenomenon of token activism in a strikingly similar way to Psychology Today: “Posting a tweet and writing a post might make you feel better about a certain subject, but it doesn’t do much on the side of making a difference. We’re leveraging social media and current events to crowdsource that level of change. There are things you can do to support great causes and even shape policies.”

There are so many productive ways you can choose to better the world. Make sure you’re taking advantage of them.

To see excerpts of the full Psychology Today article, click here.

Featured Image by D. Sinclair Terrasidius on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Be Good