Magazine article Psychology Today

Safety Pins for Slackers

Magazine article Psychology Today

Safety Pins for Slackers

Article excerpt

WHETHER WE'RE talking about compromising intelligence dossiers, travel bans, wiretapping claims, or terminating agency heads, so far 2017 has been a wild geopolitical ride, documented with endless commentary on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Depending on ideology, we may have clicked like, love, thumbs up, or thumbs down. We may even have made a comment declaring our support or criticism.

No doubt, social platforms have become major avenues of political expression. Twitter has played an important role in facilitating political dissent around the world. The Arab Spring and other movements may never have occurred, at least in the same way, without social media. Social networks allow us to speak our minds and broadcast our opinions to vast numbers of people in a way that no ordinary citizen could just a decade ago. There's a certain sense of fulfillment that one can experience by clicking a like button or by retweeting a particularly sensational quote.

Nonetheless, we're left wondering whether all the liking, sharing, and commenting actually does any good. Are we making a difference? Or are we just indulging in a form of entertainment or perhaps selfaggrandizement?

This easy token action in support of a cause is called "slacktivism" or, more technically, "token activism." When we click like on a Facebook post we are publicly signaling our moral position and naturally tend to think about how others will react to this action. This extrinsic mind-set can draw us away from truer, deeper motivations. But if we're asked to look inward and reflect on why we've chosen to click like in support ofonepost versus another, we're connecting to a deeper and stronger source of motivation.

Slacktivism may satisfy an urge without motivating us to do anything real. Think of the desire to take political action as a kind of psychological itch that needs scratching. Of course, there is more than one way to scratch that itch. We can march in protest, make a donation to a nonprofit organization, write a blog, sign a petition, or click thumbs up on a YouTube post, among many other efforts. All of these deeds will scratch that itch, but some are more constructive than others.

The difficulty is that, once our need to act has been satisfied, we may not be motivated to do more. This is similar to goal theory: Just fantasizing about a goal is all we need to be cognitively satisfied. Likewise, once we click like, we may actually be less likely to take more effective action. …

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