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Wednesday, July 13 • 13:46 - 15:15
Click Here: 'Slacktivism' and the Question of Commitment

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Chandell Gosse, Western University, Canada
  • Anabel Quan Haase, Western University, Canada
  • Alyssa MacDougall, Western University, Canada

Background: This project examines the popular term “slacktivism” through an investigation of social media users’ participation in social movements online and offline. Ensuring the success of social movements is an impossible task because their success, i.e., social or political change that occurs as a result of organized efforts to do so, rests on a complex matrix of conditions (e.g., social, economic, political, personal, economic, geographical, etc.). A key feature known to be effective, at least, involves perseverance and long-term commitment (Corrigall-Brown 2011). The growth of social media as a popular communication platform for the awareness and organization of many social movements, called here social and political online campaigns (SPOCs), has led to widespread debate over the merits of its use in relation to such perseverance by dismissing involvement as “slacktivism” or simply a “feel good measure.” Beyond the campaign’s number of likes, posts, tweets, and monetary donations, however, there is little empirical data on which to form an opinion. Understanding the new shift from offline to online communication within social movements and their related SPOCs requires knowing more than simply how many people participated, or how popular the campaign appeared to be. As such, our project asks whether participation in social and political online campaigns is a determinate factor for participation outside of a social media context. 

Objective: Given the emphasis on long-term commitment, and the short-shelf life of many online campaigns, our project seeks to understand whether individuals who participate in SPOCs continue to support the causes behind the campaigns outside of the social media sphere. Our project has two objectives: first, to determine whether SPOCs mobilize action outside the sphere of social media; and second, to determine whether such action continues after the campaigns recede from social media spotlight. Our central argument states that even though participation occurs by a few highly engaged individuals, the long tail of participation—that is, the moderately engaged majority—still comprises a significant portion of total engagement. We rely on Anderson’s (2006) theory of the long tail to better understand the phenomenon of engagement in viral campaigns. 

Methods: This research comes at a crucial time; as technology continues to evolve and the ubiquity of social media as a primary form of communication increases, it is important to understand how people from all walks of life engage with online activism. Our project draws from participants’ responses to surveys advertised on the social networking sites Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook. The survey is comprised of open-ended and close-ended questions and is available to anyone over the age of eighteen. 

Results: The online survey (found here: https://goo.gl/AmQiMM) will remain active until March 2016. The results from this survey are expected to provide insight into four main areas of interest: a) why social media users’ choose to participate in SPOCs and what that participation consists of; b) whether social media users’ learn about issues pertaining to the SPOCs they participate in outside of the social media context, and if so, what the breadth of that knowledge is; c) what information or knowledge users’ feel they gained from participating in SPOCs; and d) whether users’ develop a commitment to the cause outside of social media.  

Future Work: The research presented here represents the first stage of a larger project. This stage aims to quantify whether social media users, who participated in SPOCs, participated or supported the campaign outside of social media. The next stage of this project will address related questions using a qualitative approach. The significance of our study lies in providing a better understanding of the effectiveness of these viral campaigns. Since many private and public companies, non-government organizations, health care initiatives and advocacy groups, to name a few, invest enormous amounts of time and resources into creating and disseminating these campaigns, we think that understanding how effective they are beyond their “15 minutes of fame” could help maximize the successfulness of the campaign’s goal(s) (and ultimately, effect change). 

Anderson, C. (2006). The long tail: Why the future of business is selling less of more. New York, NY: Hyperion. 
Corrigall-Brown, C. (2011). Patterns of protest: Trajectories of participation in social movements. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.  

Wednesday July 13, 2016 13:46 - 15:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - 326 Goldsmiths University, Building 2