Activism Vs. Slacktivism: When the Two Collide

You can’t hold a summit on high tech social activism without considering the darker side of the matter - slacktivism. We live in a world where easy access to the internet has brought thousands of new causes before our eyes. In the words of George Carlin, it seems that today everybody wants to save something - save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails - and all you have to do is click like. The technological age has certainly brought many of the world’s pressing problems to our attention. But has social media actually accomplished anything in solving them? A handful of delegates from media sources and non-profits gathered to discuss the idea Tuesday at New York City’s Social Good Summit, and see if they couldn’t shed some light on the term clicktivist and determine whether it was good or bad.

Among the panelists was Jay Jaboneta of Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation. Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, or as they’re more commonly known The Yellow Boat Project raises funds to supply Filipino boys and girls with school supplies, fund local medical and dental missions, and even establish scholarships for higher education. They got their start, and their unique name, after Jaboneta heard about a group of kids that was forced to swim to school each day.

“I’d heard stories of kids who’d skipped school to go swimming,” he said “but here was one of kids who had to swim to get to school.”

Irked by the situation and seeking to clear his mind he posted some passing thoughts on Facebook. Friends caught on, and got inspired, and within days they’d raised $1,600 to buy the village a boat. The new boat delivers kids to and from school safe and dry just like a normal bus. A clear example of the real world power of online clicktivism.

“We’re always surprised to look at third party data for our most prolific users,” said Liba Rubenstein of Tumblr, who moderated the conversation. “You see these incredibly active users, who post hundreds of times a day, and you create this image of someone sitting in their pajamas. Someone who probably never sees the light of day. But that doesn’t turn out to be the case.” According to Rubenstein many of Tumblr’s most active online members are also among the most active in their physical communities. They’re more likely to be registered to vote, more likely to advise friends on political situations, and more likely to have attended rallies than many of their less active users. So it seems that online activism might not just be about ease of access. It could also be the direct result of an already active population finding another outlet for their energy.

“All the social media platforms run on human emotion,” Jaboneta said, “Whether anger, joy, sadness, or hope.”

Indeed, the name emblazoned on the side of one of their big yellow boats - words chosen by the locals to describe their feeling toward the clicktivist contraption - Bagong Pag-asa. Filipino for New Hope.





Ethan is a traveling writer and entrepreneur. In addition to writing for CATALYST, and SocialFinance.CA he blogs about all sorts of things over at An American Afoot. His recent work focuses on people who are using business to change the world for the better. Always interested in new and fascinating stories, he can be reached via twitter or at