The Rise of Slacktivism

This post could also be called ‘Why I don’t like the like button (but I use it anyway…)’

It has been quite a weekend. The video showing Barack Obama’s awesome humiliation of Donald Trump at the White House correspondents dinner has 30,000 YouTube likes. So far, Osama Bin Laden is dead has 25,000 Facebook likes, although I’m sure that number will rise exponentially over the next day or two. And the big winner is Pippa Middleton, whose Ass Appreciation Society, also on Facebook, has nearly 130,000 likes.

There are many problems with the like button, the main one being that it makes us all (and I include myself in this) lazy. Like doesn’t always just mean like, and it doesn’t really take a lot longer to type, “I read that article too, and I completely agree with it!” or “What a great photo – you look lovely”. I remember when I used to write letters to distant friends – real letters than needed to be put in an envelope and posted. Then we stopped writing and started emailing. Then we stopped emailing and started writing on each other’s walls. Now there are people who I communicate with entirely through likes – they like my status update, I like their engagement announcement – but there is very little two-way conversation to remind each other what we actually, erm, liked about each other in the first place.

There is a distinction to be made, though, between those everyday likes of comments and photos, and the public liking of pages. Here, I believe the like button is at least valuable as a communication tool, an online word-of-mouth. If I see that a friend has liked a page and it sounds interesting, I will visit it myself to check out what campaign, band or cause they are supporting.

What’s important to remember is that clicking the like button is still no substitute for real activism. Having a large number of fans that you can communicate with is a great thing, but only as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Unless those people then turn up to your events, or buy your book, or donate to your charity, they are fairly meaningless.

The recent Edinburgh sensation Jack Draws Anything – a lovely wee guy in raising money for the Sick Kids Hospital – reported 500 new fans in four hours after celebrity supporter Russell Howard mentioned him on his Good News show and posted a link on his Facebook page. That’s genuinely good news – but it will be interesting to see how many of those 500 fans also take the extra time to visit Jack’s website and make a donation. (I hope they all do!).

However. For all those genuine problems with the like button, perhaps if I’m honest, the thing I like least it is that it brings out my competitive side. I can’t tell you how much it thrills me that the Scottish Greens have over 1000 likes on Facebook, while the Scottish Liberal Democrats have only 37. (37!!) I am also desperate for DorkyDad’s poetry page to get 200 likes (at the moment it has 170…), and it goes without saying that I will be miffed if I post this article and don’t get any likes. It’d just be quite nice to get some comments too.

(In the time it has taken me to write this article, both Pippa Middleton’s Ass and Osama Bin Laden’s Dead have gained over 1000 fans. The Scottish Liberal Democrats still only have 37.)

5 responses

  1. I love this food for thought Dorkymom..keep your articles coming!
    The power of the ‘like’ button on facebook seems to have quickly replaced the ‘How many friends do you have on facebook?’ status symbol. Who really has 500 friends? – or is there the need to ‘redefine’ the meaning of the word ‘friend’…but that’s another debate!
    I must admit I do enjoy ‘liking’ a comment or two as you quickly unite in thought or laughter. I thought I should take this opportunity to make you aware of hitting the ‘like’ button by accident (very easily done on your smartphone!)…I recently made the faux pas of liking an old facebook friend’s comment on ‘getting sick for the third time…’ she quickly replied ‘You like this???’ – obviously I did not like it or indeed enjoy reading about it..Yuk! I have also have not seen this girl in 10 years,which makes it all the stranger!
    Neil wants to create the ‘unlike’ button, although I imagine this is for the benefit of his mischievous humour other than anything else! What do you think? Is the ‘unlike’ button a little too controversial for facebook? I have a feeling it would generate alot more ‘comments’ though!
    Claire xx

  2. Thanks for all your thoughts Claire! I don’t know about you but I have fairly regular clearouts of my friends list! I agree that the like button is good for acknowledging something that makes you laugh… I think the record number of likes I ever had on FB was when I commented on the irony of Margaret Thatcher celebrating her birthday on the same day that the Chilean miners were rescued!

    The mischievous part of me is keen on the idea of a dislike button too… but I do think it would cause a lot trouble! But maybe it would encourage people to think more and justify their opinions? I’m not sure… I get into enough trouble on there as it is!

    xx

  3. Excellent post! I agree, the Like Button is lazy, it should only be a start, and so often it seems to be seen as an end in itself. Having said that I should go and check whether I’m one of those already liking the Scottish Green Party and if not i should make sure I Like them as well as voting for them!

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