In October 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and neck for speaking out against the Taliban for shutting down her school in Swat, Pakistan. Malala had been a vocal activist for girls’ right to receive an education since 2009 when she wrote about her experiences anonymously for a BBC blog, and her story had even been featured in a New York Times documentary. After the shooting, the world waited with bated breath, praying for Malala’s survival. Luckily, Malala pulled through and she continues to be an oft-quoted activist today.
In the days following the shooting, the hashtag #StandWithMalala emerged and gained popularity when Selena Gomez, a popular actress and singer, tweeted her support.
Thousands of people used #StandWithMalala to communicate their support and raise awareness of Malala and her cause. Unfortunately, most people did little beyond tweeting to aid Pakistani girls; this activity (or rather, lack thereof) is called “slacktivism”. Slacktivism is the phenomenon when a person makes a small “feel good” gesture, which requires minimal effort, that has no effect on a movement. The person is satisfied with their contribution, and yet the cause does not benefit at all. So in the case of #StandWithMalala, people would “re-tweet” and “favorite” Selena Gomez’s original tweet and believe they had made an effect on the situation in Pakistan.
Slacktivism is not a phenomenon limited to just #StandWithMalala. This can happen in any social networking movement. While it is important for people to re-tweet posts that raise awareness to social/political movements, they should expand their online (and real life) activities beyond this. People should try to engage more deeply in these movements by generating new content, donating to grassroots organizations and, most importantly, do what is requested by the people leading the grassroots movements.