Proponents see such acts on social media as a way to build an audience, show support of a movement and reach more people through engagement. Opponents of such simple clicks of a mouse call it slacktivism – a superficial fix that makes people feel like they are doing something when in most cases it makes no difference.
So some experts decided to research social media activism and find out what people really thought. A survey conducted with YouGov, a crowd-sourced polling service, found that many people feel acting via social media is sufficient. One in five respondents said that a ‘like’ on Facebook is a good way of supporting an organization.
The survey found that one in seven people think that liking an organization on Facebook is as good as donating money.
UNICEF Sweden, for one, decided it needed to push back on this with a little humor.
“We like likes, and social media could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there,” explained UNICEF Sweden Director of Communications Petra Hallebrant. “Likes don’t save children’s lives. We need money to buy vaccines for instance.”
In response, UNICEF Sweden launched a somewhat humorous (for Scandinavians, this counts as humorous) campaign to raise money for polio vaccines. It asked people to stop liking things and instead give money. Here’s the video spot for this campaign.
“It’s an integrated campaign with press ads, TV-commercials, radio commercials, digital activities as well as PR,” explained Hallebrant.
UNICEF Sweden teamed up with the advertising agency Forsman & Bodenfors, who provided pro-bono work, to shape the campaign. It seeks to squarely refute the idea that someone can make a contribution to saving the lives of children by liking on Facebook, added Hallebrant.
The television commercial features a young boy named Rahim standing in the middle of his home. A single light and a large window illuminate the sparse scene where his younger brother quietly sits on a mattress on the floor of the room. Wind blows the tattered drapes as Rahim says he worries for the safety of his younger brother if he gets sick like his mother.
“But I think everything will be alright,” he says as the camera moves towards his face. “Today Unicef Sweden has 177,000 likes on Facebook. Maybe they will reach 200,000 by summer.”
As the camera moves towards the younger brother throwing up a soccer ball the text on the screen tells the viewers “Likes don’t save lives. Money does.”
The campaign tells viewers to give in order to support UNICEF Sweden’s polio vaccine campaign. Beyond fundraising, the hope is that the campaign will spark a broader discussion.
UNICEF Sweden’s campaign wedges itself into a broader debate over the power of social media to support change. The responses to the campaign so far have been largely positive. Some smaller organizations had told Hallebrant that social media is a crucial outreach tool for their work. Though there are others who think the campaign gives the wrong message.
“The truth of the matter is, we need to support non-profits financially, and ensure the causes most at supported by non-profits can actually be helped. But to suggest that slacktivism isn’t helping is doing a huge disservice to those folks that can’t afford to help financially, but want to help in any other way they can,” writes Danny Brown in a blog post for business2community in response to the campaign.
He says there are examples of social media affecting real change. He points to copywriter Steven Edward Streight who says his local nonprofit benefited from social media because it could demonstrate community outreach on grant applications.
Slacktivism critics say that it is not real action. Brian Moylan responded to the outpouring of Facebook support for gay marriage when users changed their profile pictures to a red and pink Human Rights Campaign logo. In VICE, Moylan argues that real activism is sticking out your neck.
The only way to create change is by being like Kameny and putting something on the line. Let’s all protest so hard we get arrested and then post our mug shots on our walls. That’s the kind of disturbance that will get us some real results.
Discussions about slacktivism continue, but the move by UNICEF Sweden is one of the first by a big player to call out the shortcomings of social media.
“We hope people discuss the value of a like, how you look upon the possibilities of getting involved in charities and also what role social media has in the society today,” said Hallebrant.
About the author
CorrespondentTom Murphy is Humanosphere's East Coast correspondent, at least until we can think of a better title. Tom is a prolific writer-blogger and editor of the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. Tom is based in Boston and tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy-at-humanosphere.org or send a comment below. View all posts by Tom Murphy →
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