Facebook activism is a new buzzword making its way into the public sphere and discourse in Pakistan. As excited as I am by its power, I am worried at the exponential increase in the number of people giving all kinds of opinions. As a result, I find that it is increasingly becoming easy to lose track of genuine content in an ever-expanding web of social gossip chatter. The positive side in this is that more people are becoming independent digital journalists, some of them displaying as much influence as a media house.
The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. Social media has reinvented activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the once powerless to collaborate and coordinate in order to give voice to their concerns.
This shift, from the traditional media houses to a more fluent electronic form of journalism, is a breath of fresh air. No longer are we held hostage to the opinions of a few journalists who muscle their opinion onto readers. The old guard are being confronted by individuals who are able to use equally popular platforms to share their opinions. These highly-opinionated individuals have been able to make such an impact that what they do is comparable to newspapers.
But the increasing number of online independent opinions has also given birth to an online version of the drawing room politician. ‘Slacktivism’ – as defined by the Urban Dictionary – is “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.”
The phenomenon of the ‘slacktivist’ allows us to adopt a pseudo activist personality. Tucked securely behind a computer screen, we discover a sense of self-confidence but are distanced from being activists in the “real world”. It is at best a kind of a drum roll, so to speak, of opinions, usually taking the form of a simple mouse click: in this particular instance, the slacktivist thinks that simply clicking ‘like’ or ‘will attend’ an event on Facebook seems to satisfy the requirement to be an activist.
Of my own efforts to motivate people to stand up for political or civil liberties issues in Pakistan, I find it extremely difficult to convert a slacktivist into a real-life activist. The abundant Facebookers clicking ‘will attend’ may bring the organiser to prepare for the million-man march to Islamabad, but realistically the attendees are enough to not even load a rickshaw.
In my opinion, there is no deliberate intention to do wrong, people genuinely want to help, but actions must speak louder than words. Only then will individuals emerge victorious against the plunderers running our country to the ground. Had it not been for blogging, for the voice I discovered and the platform it provided me to address a wide audience, I could never have impacted the lives of over 75,000 flood victims. I would have spent a life in oblivion treating teeth by day and, quite possibly, being a drawing room politician by night.
A number of activists have emerged from Pakistan’s online sphere but we need to inspire confidence in the new generation to move out of the mouse-clicking, slacktivism mode and be the spark for a positive change in Pakistan.
Viva la Revolución.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2010.