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slacktivism

A provocative study in the inaugural release of Sociological Science shows that online activists may be less active/less engaged than the activist community would hope. The vast majority of people who joined the Save Darfur Facebook campaign “recruited no one else into the Cause and contributed no money to it.” The authors of the study concluded that “Facebook conjured an illusion of activism rather than facilitating the real thing.”

One possibility is that this pattern reflects activism of all kinds. In any cause, whether it be online or offline, there are many joiners but few participators. The authors hint at this potential when noting that the Facebook campaign reflects the traditional collective action problem. Once people join a movement, they have little incentive to exert energy, resources, or time if they think others will do it instead.

But the other possibility is that there is something unique about social media activism that is demotivating. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, “The Nature of Slacktivism” investigates this possibility at the social psychological level. In a laboratory experiment, the authors of this study show that people who are assigned to join a public Facebook activist group are less likely to participate in the movement subsequently (stuffing envelopes) than are people who are assigned to a private Facebook activist group. The key difference between a public and a private group is that in the public group your friends can see that you joined. The authors claim that there are two functions that activism often serves for individuals: impression management (i.e., looking good in front of others) and value consistency (i.e., a desire to align your actions with your values). Social media activism satisfies individuals’ need for impression management; hence, the reason a number of people dropped out once they felt their friends noticed their efforts. Only people who are reminded about their pre-existing values will likely follow through with a deeper level of engagement.

The two studies together suggest that there may be a reality behind this idea that social media facilitates slacktivism. Of course, this isn’t to say that movements would be better off without social media. There are many positive informational benefits that social media create for movements. And other scholars have suggested that online activism is simply a different form of social movement altogether – one that deserves being studied on its own terms. But these studies should also make us skeptical when Internet evangelists declare that social media have released traditional movements from past constraints.

Written by brayden king

March 3, 2014 at 11:19 pm

11 Responses

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  1. On the flip side, there is a recent issue of Information, Communication, and Society that suggests there is a strong relationship between political activism and social media use (that stands up across three countries and across time):

    http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rics20/17/2#/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2013.871318

    I wonder if one of the mechanisms of slacktivism is that as things become perceived as being successful (like Save Darfur), people are less likely to donate because of free-riding patterns. Can’t remember if they discuss this in the article.

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    Chris Bail

    March 4, 2014 at 1:55 am

  2. […] at orgtheory.com, Brayden King pointed to two recent studies on online activism. In their study on “The […]

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  3. is this really “a provocative study”? did anyone expect online to be more involved???? this entry just reads like cheap advertisement for Sociological Science. And that’s fine, i understand you want the journal to do well… but provocative?????

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    gradstudent

    March 4, 2014 at 4:52 pm

  4. Given all of the evangelism among some communications and information sciences scholars about how the Internet has changed activism forever, I would say that it is provocative. Groundbreaking? No, but it definitely has provoked interest among a wide range of scholars who care about the role of social media in movements.

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    brayden king

    March 4, 2014 at 4:59 pm

  5. fair enough

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    gradstudent

    March 4, 2014 at 5:01 pm

  6. I’m with gradstudent. Could we declare at least a one-week moratorium on advertisement/promotion of Sociological Science? I mean, I get it…open access and online is like our generation’s version of the fight against fascism or the war in Vietnam, but am already bored to tears with hearing about it.

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    Oliver Law

    March 4, 2014 at 7:40 pm

  7. […] orgtheory.wordpress.com – Tagged: Study Says View on Counterparties.com […]

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  8. Oliver – I don’t recall this post being about open access. The post is about whether or not social media facilitates engaged activism. Did you read the post or did you stop after the first sentence?

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    brayden king

    March 4, 2014 at 8:07 pm

  9. my issues is not so much with open access as it is with the fact the recently orgtheory feels like a platform for promoting Sociological Science. I feel like half the entries make a reference to it and how promising it is and blah blah blah… Those things are probably all true, and I like the system. But just come out and say it “hey peeps, read sociological science!” otherwise it just feels like crappy product placement, hence my previous comment.

    I like the approach Fabio took with Grad Skool Rulez. He’s just open about it. Maybe orgtheory should take the same approach to Sociological Science. Announce it’s table of contents, write short summaries/responses, etc…. but do it out in the open.

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    gradstudent

    March 4, 2014 at 8:43 pm

  10. gradstudent – it didn’t occur to me that we were doing that. This is the first post I’ve written, other than one post last year where I noted the journal was going to happen, that even mentions Sociological Science. Yes, I like the journal, but I’m just as likely to promote Management Science and Organization Science, where I serve as an associate editor and a deputy editor, or ASQ and and ASR, where I am on the editorial boards.

    I think what’s really going on here is that Soc Science came out with its first papers, it had some articles that a lot of us read, and this drew our attention to the issues being discussed. Yes, we’re excited about the innovativeness of the journal, but that’s not a reason to talk about any specific article. My attention going to this particular article is really a function of three things: 1) I’m a social movements scholar, 2) I got some internal funding to study social media and movements, and 3) I’m writing a book review for the Logic of Connective Action, which focuses on digital media and movements. So yes, I’m engaged with the topic. If you’re not interested, then no problem, my next post will be about something else. I’ve sworn to myself I’ll eventually write that post about Michel Anteby’s new book.

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    brayden king

    March 4, 2014 at 8:52 pm

  11. Brayden, I hope you didn’t think my comment second comment was personally directed at you… the first one was, and you made your point about the article being provocative. My second comment was specifically meant to be constructive criticism for the way orgtheory posts, whether written by you or anyone else, deal with the new journal. that is all.

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    gradstudent

    March 4, 2014 at 9:08 pm


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