Thursday, July 14, 2005

Slacktivism versus Activism

All hands on keyboards! Act now! Forward this! Sign this! Almost every day I am greeted with this type of email message, and it can be seen on quite a few of the blogs out there these days.

First for those of you asking what exactly is slacktivism?

Activism that seeks projects and causes that require the least amount of effort.

How did all of this begin? In 1995, two students at the University of Northern Colorado circulated by e-mail a petition to rally people to protest government cutbacks in PBS, National Public Radio and the arts. In order to ensure it reached as many people as possible, it included the words, "Forward this to everyone you know." Newsday, February 27, 2001

A recent report from Congress provides this interesting information:

The report, based on a survey of 202 House and Senate offices, found that Congress received 200 million e-mail and postal mail messages in 2004, four times the 50 million total in 1995. During that period, postal mail dropped sharply, from 50 million a decade ago to about 18 million last year.

After the anthrax incident in letters sent to the Capitol shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, emails became even more preferred by Congress as well. Since then, all letters addressed to Congress and government agencies in Washington are required to go through a testing and decontamination process, which delays delivery by a week or more.

This means thanks to the increase in the email forward action type requests in reality what we have created is a situation where the email has become less effective. Congress and the media and other recipients of these forwards know how few seconds were taken to do this. Especially when they get a few hundred of the exact same email to the exact same recipients, subject line? Exactly the same. We are encouraged to email by not only Congress but the Media because it makes it easier for them to ignore us. If you are lucky, your only response is a thank you for writing your thoughts are very important to us, have a nice day, type form email response.

What do we do? Stop contacting them? Or find ways to do so that are still not that difficult and are more effective. Phone calls are more effective than emails; letters are more effective than emails. Emails should be a last resort and then as personal as possible so it is actually….read. With the additional steps necessary for letters, a phone call is your best option, followed by a letter or an email reminding them of the issue you called about and who you spoke to or the message that you left. That gets responses. Which means? Someone listened. When you get a response or action from one of these contacts, thank them. People like to feel appreciated and even if you did not get the desired action, the next time you might.

This is especially important when contacting the media. It’s better to take the time to concentrate on a few sources and get a response than a blanket mass emailing that will most probably end up in the recycle bin. A real life petition with actual human signatures is going to get you more attention than an online one with more signatures. Some of you are going to say that is just common sense, but it is becoming lost in the rush for the immediate response that does not result in an immediate action.

A recent example is the situation with Leonard Clark, who is a soldier in Iraq who is under investigation related to his declaring his Senate candidacy, as well topics written on his blog while in the Military. It was stated on the internet thru blogs that he had been arrested. Some blogs called for a mass emailing of all media. Yet, I discovered thru my time with just a few concentrated media efforts in his area that there was no proof he was under arrest nor was there any stateside media contact that could answer questions on the record. Now we know he is no longer under arrest. It had nothing to do with the email mailings, he was already not under arrest before it even started, but this was hailed by a few as proof of how mass email things work. It did demonstrate that there were people interested in this story, which might make it one the media will follow more closely in the future, but it did not release Leonard Clark.

The next time you see one of these requests? If it is an important issue to you; make the choice to be an activist. Leave the slacktivism for the others.