The Resistance Will Not Be Televised. It’ll Be Retweeted.
Social media allows activists to organize for action in unprecedented ways. But are we in danger of succumbing to “slacktivism”?
The vast reach of social media platforms has enabled our country to stay connected, reaching across the divide of red and blue states and giving rise to The Resistance. In every corner of our nation, opposition to this administration is mobilized using Facebook events, online petitions, and the rapid fire tweets of a million hashtags mounting a storm of objection.
And while the digital tools we’ve embraced have given us an endless capacity to connect, some experts worry these same platforms foster what they refer to as “slacktivism.”
You’re scrolling along on your phone, scanning past pics of someone’s dog or last night’s dinner, and your finger pauses. There’s an article shared by a friend, alerting you to the fact that a transgender military ban has just been signed by the President. You stop, horrified that you’ve missed this atrocity in the bubble of your hectic daily life. The need to take action or show your support is overwhelming. But how?
Often, readers want to connect and help combat injustice, but feel helpless. Many organizations have turned to petitions in an effort to gather that motivation and use it as fuel for change.
Online petitions are just part of an arsenal of digital weapons that Resistance fighters now have at their disposal. While signing a petition may not inspire change directly, it does provide momentum for a cause. Gathering massive amounts of signatures not only signals the unpopularity of a policy, it can become the foundation of a movement. Organizers leverage this info to reach out for donations, host local events, and mobilize people across the country to take next steps towards contacting legislators or coordinating boycotts.
It’s one of many reasons why Care2, a pioneer of online advocacy, sees the future of activism as a bright one. With over 41 million members, Care2 is the world’s largest social network for good and partners with organizations like Human Rights Campaign, Environment Defense Fund, and World Wildlife Federation to get the word out about issues that matter. Their petitions, started by members, nonprofits, and brands, have inspired progress and been a force for change for nearly two decades.
We chatted with Care2 CEO and Founder, Randy Paynter, to get our fingers on the pulse of online advocacy, where he sees the winds of change blowing, and what the future of digital activism might hold.
Care2 has been around since 1998 and is considered a pioneer in online activism. You’ve probably witnessed some massive shifts as technology has evolved. What do you see as the biggest change over the past two decades in how the internet drives activism?
It’s incredible how much has changed since I started Care2 in 1998. Back then, most of the cases of animal abuse, violence, hate, etc. went unnoticed by the general public. There were rarely videos or even photos of these wrong doings, and stories were passed along mostly via email or major news sites. And, even for people who knew about such abuses, it was difficult to know what do or how to make a difference. The result was that many people felt apathetic. In fact, it used to be “cool” not to care.
That’s why I started Care2 — so all of us who care would have a place to stand together with others who care too. And, I wanted to make it easy for people to take action, and see that together we’re far more powerful than alone.
Then came smart phones, fast and widespread internet access and social media. These factors dramatically accelerated what I had set out to accomplish, so today the average person is far more aware of issues facing our society and has easy access to tools, such as Care2 petitions, to take action and make a positive impact.
Has the Resistance made a difference in terms of volume or approach in the campaigns Care2 has been involved in since the election? Do you see more politically driven petitions?
Yes, but… I think it’s clear that progressives in the US are feeling a great sense of urgency to stop the dismantling of much of the progress that has been made over the previous 8 years. We’ve seen a significant increase in people starting petitions related to protecting civil rights, the environment, health care, etc., in direct response to the rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration.
That said, we’re also seeing that the near constant drama is dulling reactions. When every tweet and headline is extreme, the outrageous begins to sound normal. The danger is that people become immune to all but the most extreme abuses, accepting what was unacceptable a year ago. At a very simplistic level, we see this in terms of what headlines people are clicking on — nine months ago, using the word “Trump” in a headline was an eye-catcher. Today it may get very little reaction.
What do you see as the future of online activism? Does social media continue to play a pivotal role in helping to organize efforts?
While the road may be rocky, online activism is absolutely charting a path toward a brighter future. Society has never been more connected than it is right now. And while that rapid shift has created a sense of great duress and marginalization for various groups around the world, over the long run, that sense of connection is likely to bring people from around the world closer together and increase the sense of shared values. In addition, as people fully realize their power through online activism, they will use their collective might to hold the powerful accountable. It won’t always be pretty, and it won’t always be progressive, but I believe over the long run it inevitably leads toward a more just, equitable and inclusive society.
Tell me about a petition supported by Care2 that is near and dear to your heart.
There are so many important Care2 petitions it’s hard to choose just one. One that will always stand out for me was one of the very first Care2 petitions, started by an Alaskan citizen who wanted to protect the wolves of Denali National Park. The wolves didn’t understand there was a line around the park, and that when they crossed outside the park they could get shot. So, the petition asked for a no-kill buffer zone around the park to protect the wolves. The author quickly collected over 1,000 signatures, printed them out, and presented them to the Alaska Board of Game, convincing them to create the buffer zone. That initial win quickly helped me realize that we were on to something big with online petitions. Since then, we’ve had over 600 million Care2 petition signatures, and thousands of successes on topics ranging from civil rights to animal welfare, women’s rights, local education, and much more.
To learn more about Care2, visit their website and join the growing community of activists that use petitions to organize for change. Because signing your name isn’t slacktivism. Petitions like the ones started at Care2 build awareness and are the first step towards progress and positive action.