Activism or Slacktivism…Does It Have A Place In Your Classroom?

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What is the role of social media? Should it be used to check in with your family or friends, expand your horizons, or support a social action project? Does social media only have one purpose or should it be used for a combination of things?

If you remember a few years ago, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took social media by a storm? The purpose of this challenge was to raise awareness and donate money to the charity. In total, the campaign raised about 115 million dollars. So…do you think using social media for this type of campaign is effective?

My great grandmother passed away from ALS. Growing up, this disease was always near and dear to my heart. However, ALS was not a disease that was recognized by most. Personally, I think the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge worked to raise awareness and money. Celebrities, hockey players, and your best friends could be seen on social media taking part in this challenge. The argument can be made that not everyone who participated in the challenge donated money or that some participants did not realize why they were pouring water over their heads. While this might be the case, overall the campaign still raised awareness and money even if not every participant donated.

But the argument can be made all the same that using social media to support causes, like ALS, also known as #slacktivism is problematic. For example, take this article by Maclean’s discussing how using social media to support social activism is “useless” because very little is being achieved to help the cause. The article ends by stating, “don’t embarrass yourself by demonstrating you need a gimmick to give. If you want to help, just give money or time. Anything else is only about you.” The reason I find this analysis problematic is because I think awareness is just as important in order to educate and take action. The article highlights that social media has caused society to believe they are making a difference by simply sending out a tweet with the #FeedTheStarving or #BringBackOurGirls. The argument stems from the fact that these tweets make the individual feel “rewarded” without actually taking action. Isn’t awareness the first step in order for a person to take action though? Without these so-called campaigns taking place on social media, would people even know about these social justice topics?

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It seems to me that as teachers we need to use these networks to educate our students about the action they can take. Think about how many students take part in Telemiracle. You can often find SLC executives fundraising for this Saskatchewan based fundraiser by holding a bake sale or selling Helping Hands. I think these social media campaigns are just another outlet for students to become aware of other organizations that they can give a helping hand. Are all of these campaigns seen on social media valid? No, probably not, which can be a valuable lesson in the classroom on its own. Teaching students to be aware of authenticity when browsing social media is an important understanding in the technological century that they are growing up in.

So how do we use this to teach about social action in the classroom? I think it begins by educating students about different social justice topics and using social media as a resource. In internship, I created a mini-unit, within a larger social justice unit, on systemic racism. I was able tie in the article, His Name is Cayden and discuss the #BlackLivesMatter. This led to the students asking those deeper thinking questions that we, as teachers, are always looking for. Students expressed the importance of being mindful of what one shares online. This led to a discussion on digital identity. Students also found other current events and articles that related to the idea of #BlackLivesMatter. Furthermore this idea was connected to the Syrian Refugee Crisis that was happening at the exact moment we were learning about systemic racism. I guess the point I am trying to make is that these social media campaigns create a platform for students, and society at large, to learn and make meaningful connections about important events taking place in the word. It seems that society has become so critical of the “problems” with such social media campaigns, that they forget to see the successes. The fact is, my class never actively engaged in any social media campaign, but they can use the knowledge and awareness they have learned to influence them to take action in the future.

As a teacher, the challenge is finding a way to use social media in a meaningful and productive way. The critics will always be critics. What do you think? Do you have a place for social media campaigns in your classroom?


4 thoughts on “Activism or Slacktivism…Does It Have A Place In Your Classroom?

  1. Hi Ryan. When you stated “Teaching students to be aware of authenticity when browsing social media is an important understanding in the technological century that they are growing up in” it really stood out to me. It is our role as educators to help students understand how to know what social media they are viewing is authentic and real, and what is fake or misleading. I think its great how you connected the use of technology into your unit about systemic racism. Students were able to use technology to then add on their own discoveries. When using social media in relation to social action projects, I believe we need to start out small and introduce them to different social media campaigns.. so eventually they can develop their own.

    • Thanks for your reply Kerrie. I agree with you about starting small and growing. If you throw too much at students they feel overwhelmed and the lesson behind using social media is no longer purposeful.

  2. Pingback: Social Activism & Women | kayla onufreychuk

  3. I really have been interested in the whole ‘slactivism’ notion myself as well after I got thinking about how much we actually do contribute to a campaign by ‘liking’ it. I loved your insight into the whole idea and I actually wrote about it a bit too! Have you ever experienced any other examples of when you feel like you’ve been in this situation? Anything specific?

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