Slacktivism

Last year NPR reported on social media campaigns as being acts of “Slacktivism.” Here is how they defined it:

“An apt term to describe feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in “slacktivist” campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group.”

The article came out before the Facebook campaign to get Betty White on SNL. That was still “Slacktivism.” I joined the page and then hoped quietly as I went on with my day.

Facebook is an easy home to anyone who wants to start a fan page for any topic. When a TV show was cancelled, viewers would have write-in campaigns or physically do something to save a show. Now we just start a Facebook page like “I’m With Coco.“ Sadly, things didn’t work out too well for Conan on NBC, despite his being far more popular than Jay Leno with people on Facebook.

The statistics of these fan pages are good figures to cite, but how often do they change the world? The only mainstream one I am aware of is Betty White getting on SNL.

I have joined a lot of these pages. I “liked” a page that was working on giving clean water to kids in third world countries. They just needed to hit a certain number of fans. Once they hit this figure, someone was going to donate a large some of money.

I also joined the “Make My Dad, John Mellencamp, Quit Smoking” campaign. John’s son convinced his dad that if they reached one million fans, then John would quit. I can’t even find the page now.

The ideas behind these campaigns were generally good. These days I am seeing endless groups with the stupidest names. I have an 18-year old cousin who joins everything she finds. Today she joined ”Don’t drink and drive, you might hit a bump and spill your drink” and “Saying to your friend, ‘there’s your best friend’ when you see someone you hate.” Really? We need pages like these? We have evolved into joining hundreds of these pages for no good reason. It almost makes “Slacktivism” look good. For her it’s like a game. She has found a program that generates silly or weird groups. The program then feeds the names of the groups to her and she can “like” them.

On our station’s fan page we have well over 15,000 fans. The page is a great news gathering tool. We can post a story or topic, and get instant feedback.

A few weeks ago we had some reports of an earthquake. We couldn’t figure out exactly where it was. Within 40 seconds of posting it on the fan page we got 120 comments. After 5 minutes we were able to pinpoint a rough map of where people were affected. People then started sharing images and video with us via the fan page too.

If we have an idea for a story and need someone to go on camera, we can now post a message on our page and get a response. Facebook pages like ours are not the end of journalism, they are a new tool to further journalism. A responsible reporter still needs to do journalistic work. The story still needs to be researched and well written, but now it’s easier to connect with the viewers. On our page we post regular news updates. Our competitors do too, but one also does a “fan of the day” feature. This can be hit or miss. Sometimes they highlight people who they would otherwise be reporting on.

In the same way though, Facebook makes me feel like a gambling addict, I just want to score my perfect number. 2,000 fans would give me a sense of comfort right, but then I will just want 3,000.

My “207” Facebook Fan Page only has 1,688 fans, but my “Bill Green’s Maine” Page has well over 2,000. The “207” page has been around longer and I do more for it. The BGME show has been on longer and has a better following.

The 207 Mug

Neither fan page seems able to get to the level of the station’s page. None of us can figure out why. If Slacktivism is so strong, and kids like my cousin will “like” any page in front of them, I should be doing much better. I have tried various ideas to promote the page and get the numbers up. We mentioned it on the show all the time. I give away the coveted “207” mug when I hit a big number. I have the hosts of the show record special messages just for the fans of the page. I am still under 2,000. It’s a major act of competition for me.

Our “Togus The Cat” page has at least 8,000 fans. Togus is a Maine Coon cat, owned by one of our reporters. The cat is seen during our winter storm coverage. He just sits there, but the guy running the fan page has a lot of fun with photos of the cat. He puts the cat in goofy mock-up photos and people go crazy. It’s also a page for weird news postings too.

Whether social media makes us more or less social is up to the psychologists to decided. What it does is continue the flow of information. Be it dumb things like the pages my cousin joins, or raise awareness however brief. The idea is to get a message out there and in other people faces.