Op-Ed: Slacktivsim, The birth of the drawing room politician

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.



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5 responses to “Op-Ed: Slacktivsim, The birth of the drawing room politician”

  1. Umar Ghumman Avatar
    Umar Ghumman

    Its very interesting you bring the up the lazy activists, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about something similar a while ago. I think you should give it a read.

  2. AbuSaadKhan Avatar

    "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."

    That's the problem. Thats why we rate the street workers.

  3. farrahshah Avatar

    I think when people say I will attend and than do not turn up there are many factors behind it .

    Firstly it is for the first time since ZAB that Pakistani people have become so active in political debates.

    It is true as well we feel very heated and charged during these debates but as soon as we are off from computer somebody throws a cold bucket of water on our ambitions for change .

    I think it will gather pace and like minded people will form groups not only on internet but it should be encouraged that people like yourself once in a while just invite people to sit and chat in a park etc .

    Just to meet each other in this way people will feel more commited and it will motivate a sense of collective responsibility for action.

    The biggest harasment in the society is fear of Intelligence agencies or the political and feudal groups.People do not want to show their faces or show the affiliations strongly they fear reprocursions.

    But for how long ?All people who are involved in activism are sincere because it is voluntary .

    I am very hopeful of this emerging Pakistan we would not accept or tolerate suppression any more.

    Thanks to people like you and keep up the good work.

    I think in the second phase of resistance people will gather to protest .Not very far .

  4. Eraj Danish Avatar
    Eraj Danish

    The recent victory of Pak army soldiers show us how strong they are mentally. Democracy allows all to take part in politics so let us not criticize anyone and rather hope for the best.

  5. faisal Avatar

    agree with the topic but online activism is not that useless. during musharraf's martial law it helped in raising the voice not only globally but also helped locals to know the alternate view point other than government as independent media was banned.it also produce results when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in islamabad for long march.