Liking Is Not Caring: Slacktivism and How to Combat It

A recent study out of the University of British Columbia in the Journal of Consumer Research has some insightful findings on the phenomenon of “slacktivism” or “clicktivism.” (The words are perhaps best defined by this UNICEF ad.) We think the study’s findings are important for anyone who manages a community in any medium, online or off.

Based on the outcomes of five studies, the authors, Kristofferson, White, and Peloza, conclude that individuals who engage it an act of token support (e.g. pinning a flower to one’s shirt, liking a post on Facebook) privately (e.g. taking a flower but not pinning it on one’s shirt) are more likely to engage in a later act of meaningful support than those who engage in an act of token support publicly or do not engage in an act of token support at all. However, their analysis offers a means to combat the negative effects of public token acts of support, that is, to prevent the onset of slacktivism: aligning institutional values (or perceptions of institutional values) with individual values.

That is, when an individual’s values align with those of an organization, that individual isn’t less likely to engage in acts of meaningful support after performing token acts of token support—shared values inoculate people against the onset of slacktivist tendencies. Common sense, right?

Of course, concerns remain about the weaknesses of public token displays of support. Publicly wearing a pin or sticker, or liking a post on Facebook, often satisfies one’s drive to contribute. People who make public acts of token support are less likely to follow up with acts of meaningful support later. The trick lies in fine-tuning calls to action to avoid this problem.

This is especially important to us at Switchboard. On Switchboard, meaningful acts of support manifest mean members of a community helping one another. Ask and offer, give and receive—generosity and meaningful interactions are the lifeblood of Switchboard. We find that cultivating a community culture of giving, in Kristofferson, White, and Peloza’s terms, aligning individual values with institutional ones, is the best way to encourage meaningful support.