Virtual Protesting

slackI’m willing to bet that you’ve engaged in some slacktivism. If you haven’t done it, and you’re on social media, you’ve definitely seen it. You know the ones: share this post to raise awareness of x, y and z. Add your signature to this virtual petition to save the whatevers. That’s the essence of slacktivism:

The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel some amount of satisfaction.

A lot of the slacktivism we see takes place on Twitter. Someone will establish a hashtag and attempt to get that hashtag to trend, or be mentioned enough times that Twitter’s algorithm will automatically push the hashtag to people’s Twitter accounts, thereby increasing the number of people aware of the ongoing action. Here in Philadelphia, we recently had an action day take place against our Health Department on Twitter. I’m not going to go into it because the topic it was attempting to spur action on is still ongoing, but it’s pertinent because this was the first time we’ve been virtually protested. And after seeing how easy it was to organize and pull off, I know it’ll happen again.

What happened, basically, was that someone posted to a website and asked their online friends to tweet at us and major media accounts using a hashtag in an effort to get us to change something we’re doing. This virtual protest was accompanied by a flood of phone calls, again, organized online.

This was kind of a traditional protest action, but it’s not the only kind, I learned. The folks at SocialMediaToday had a really interesting post on another type of protest action, a denial of hashtag event. The author described how he first accomplished a denial of hashtag event:

I quickly sent out a few emails to some lists I belong to asking folks to jump on the hashtag to tweet questions, challenges and alternative commitments to the Republican Representatives participating in the Twitter Day. I also tweeted out a calls to action and a few questions, challenges and alternative commitments of my own. Very quickly, we were able to take control of the conversation.

Now think about how your agency uses hashtags, can you imagine what you would do if the Internet started taking over the hashtag for your campaign? It’s not the same, but I experienced something similar during Delta flight 3163, which was quarantined. I tried to learn more about it as the situation unfolded, but couldn’t find anything relevant because coincidentally Lady Gaga had posted on Twitter that she was quarantining herself to work on a new album. The word quarantine was useless, and this wasn’t even a coordinated event!

Now, I wasn’t sure about even publishing this post because I like to talk about a solution or something you can do to avert or minimize the potential problem I’m describing. I couldn’t do that for this one because, well, there is no solution that I know of.

The reason I bring it up, though, is for exactly that reason. Not only will this happen more and more; as it starts happening more and more, you’re more likely to be the target of one of these attacks. Start thinking today about what you’ll do when it happens to your agency or organization. Do you inform your executive? What if they freak out and threaten to call the media? What if they tell you they don’t care about internet yahoos? What if you ignore it and the campaign makes the local–or national–news?

(Also, if you work in a traditionally government-supporting advocacy organization, think about how you could do something like this. It’s a tool and one that’s growing in utility, scope and acceptance. I always say we should be better advocates, online protesting may just be another way to do it.)