I bet this turnip can get more fans than any print article

Slacktivism attractive alternative to, like, y’know, caring

It’s exciting to see really big numbers. Just look: 514,989,150, 976.43. That’s the amount, in dollars, of the Canadian national debt according to the Canadian Taxpayer Federation on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010.

Regardless of the meaning, that’s a number that gets attention. Here’s a better one: 12,430,706,345,674. That’s the American national debt on the same date, according to USDebtClock.org.

People love big numbers, and that’s possibly why online petitions are popular. The motivation to join a group or petition online can be as slight as the desire to see the numbers climb to satisfying heights.

More big numbers: 1,205,822. That’s the number of people who joined Facebook’s petition “Stop live animal skinning in China.” 617,335 is the number of people who joined the petition to “Stop the ‘artistic’ death of an innocent animal.” That’s almost as many people as live in Winnipeg! I say “joined” the petition because it would be improper to say “signed” as there was nothing actually signed. No signatures, no pens, no paper.

Welcome to slacktivism, where being concerned about what happens in the world is just a mouse-click away. This has never been more salient than on Facebook, where users are inundated with requests to join all sorts of socially-motivated groups and are badgered to sign online petitions to change, uh, something.

Those big sexy numbers on the animal cruelty petitions make it seem like people really care. And they just might, but there’s a disconnect between an issue’s popularity and the action taken on it.

Consider the fact that, at the time of viewing, those Facebook petitions were blown out of the water by less socially-conscious movements. Like this figure: 1,829,560. That’s the number of people on one of Facebook’s most populous petitions, calling for them to install a “dislike” button. That’s a full 623,738 people more than the generalized China-skins-animals-alive petition.

Slacktivism is easy, and like many things that are easy, it is popular. And, like most things easy, it has almost zero influence or relevance.

But wait: there’s more.

726,842 is the number of people on Facebook who have put their hat in the ring to have McDonald’s start doing deliveries. It’s evident that people are more willing to publicly declare they want their conveniences more convenient than their world to be more cruelty-free. On Facebook, at least.

Slacktivism is easy, and like many things that are easy, it is popular. And, like most things easy, it has almost zero influence or relevance. Take, for example, the issue of the Windsor Hotel in Winnipeg that came up in January. It was going to be torn down!

Well, not really.

See, it started as an online petition to stop it from being demolished. Musician/hair stylist Kathy Kennedy jumped on a rumour that the hotel was going to be demolished by the city. She started online petitions and Facebook groups to prevent that from happening. A demonstration was arranged, and on Jan. 9, a couple hundred people showed up with their solidarity in tow.

The only trouble was that the hotel was not actually slated to be torn down. The city told Kathy directly, and all of a sudden the movement went from a desperate ploy to keep the hotel alive to a backtracking preservation effort.

Let’s be clear, the Windsor is awesome. But if we’re to look at the numbers, another tale is told. The Windsor blues bar attracts literally tens of people a week, and yet the Facebook group currently has 3,709 members. That’s a full 644 people less than have signed the petition, and that doesn’t even include all the people who left the group after the rally.

Instead of clicking your support, why not go there and spend your money?

Slacktivism is too easy and can easily give non-issues credence. However, whining from behind your keyboard can be very effective if you know the right avenues.

To see more of Andrew McMonagle’s whining from behind a keyboard, check out his blog at www.uniter.ca/blog

Published in Volume 64, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 4, 2010)

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