Online activism must incite engagement, not just reposts

On Monday, 13 March, 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration approved the Willow Project, an oil drilling initiative on Alaska’s North Slope that left people all over the globe angry, confused, and concerned.

In a fight to spread their opinions on the controversial political move, people took to social media, posting about the dangers of the Willow Project online. However, solely partaking in social media activism convinces aspiring change makers that a daily Instagram story repost fulfills whatever goals they may have.

On sites like Instagram, letting your followers know that you believe in something takes just one click: the share to story button. Particularly when a friend or multiple friends start constantly reposting the same post, people might feel inclined to join in.

However, this makes it easy for the majority of Instagram users to get sucked into a mix of wanting to fit in and wanting to show that they care about social and environmental issues without doing real research on the topic or fighting further than that initial click.

Another platform demonstrating this phenomenon is TikTok, on which a viral #StopWillow campaign prompted over 3.7 million users to sign a Change.org petition against the project.  Again, signing Change.org petitions takes one click, and although an uptick in supporting numbers does wonders for a campaign, Change.org is so popular because they’re easy, even if more demanding forms of activism like donating and volunteer work make greater impacts. 

The slang term “slacktivism,” or “activity that uses the internet to support political or social causes in a way that does not need much effort,” perfectly ecompasses this practice, and the negative connotation behind the word “slack” shows that taking the easy road can harm the movements one’s supposedly trying to help.

The majority of social media users are young people like teens, meaning that BHS students have surely witnessed or partaken in social media activism. So, it is important that they understand how to correctly use their impact to make the change that they want to see. That can be accomplished through more than online reposts. 

So, how can aspiring activists use social media to uplift their campaigns rather than replace them?

Social media makes it easier than ever for people to share their opinions, so when someone reposts an article or graphic, leaving their own comment on why it’s impactful has the power to get their followers to care about the original information. Building on the informative aspect of social media, if an activist’s goal is to educate their followers, specifically asking them to “read” the information at hand provides a concrete task, rather than leaving the viewers unsure of what to do about the article placed in front of them.

Finally, no one wants to be guilt-tripped into caring about a social issue. Activists know the reasons behind supporting their causes, and the best way to get others involved and amped up is by explaining those reasons and showing others how they can help.

 Spreading information about the Earth’s issues is always beneficial, but when that information stays on the base-level and provides minimal guidance or incentive to act, it isn’t real activism.