Tuesday, 12 May 2015

#IStandForMercy - slacktivism and activism

Monica Doumit is back with her view on socially trending hashtags. The following is a rebuttal of my previous piece on the #IStandForMercy campaign in the wake of the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

In his previous piece, Dom took aim at keyboard warriors and compared the #IStandForMercy hashtag to posting a selfie. As one of the people who mercilessly called for mercy on every social media account I had, the suggestion that this was simply a way to appease my conscience and tick  the “humanitarian” box while not making a change was pretty hard to take.

What made me feel worse was that I agree with him for the most part.

I know that hashtagging does nothing to make a situation better. Standing for mercy on Twitter was never going to save the lives of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran or the others executed two weeks ago.

So why do it? Why participate in a social media campaign for this and other social causes?

I think there are a myriad of reasons, some of which Dom identified in his piece.

Sure, there could be an element of narcissism and an attempt to give the veneer of a social conscience. It's also a way to feel like you are supporting a cause without actually having to do anything pro-active (which is why they call it “slacktivism”.)

People can jump on these bandwagons without even considering whether or not they actually want to go along for the ride. 

Most of the time, our motives are mixed and we're often not even aware of all of them.

But even if our motives are not pure, can good not still come of it?

Dom suggests that hashtag activism distracts people from real, honest to goodness activism. But they are not our only choices. We can also choose apathy, and we often do.

Yes, real activism is better than hashtag activism. But hashtag activism is better than apathy.

Not because the #IStandForMercy hashtag was going to change the mind of President Widodo or anyone else. The decision was going to be made notwithstanding the public outrage.

But other good can still come of it.

If I have spent the last weeks and months tweeting about mercy, then maybe I will become a more merciful person. If I am constantly pleading for mercy for two young men who I have never met, then I might be more aware of people around me who also need mercy extended to them. If I am calling on others to show mercy, I might be more likely to show mercy myself.

It also might prompt me into more concerted action on behalf of others facing the death penalty, be it Australians or others. Before his death, Andrew Chan requested that the mercy campaign be not only about himself and Myuran Sukumaran, but about showing kindness and help to all those in helpless situations. Maybe those who felt a connection with these two men before their death may heed this call and look out for an opportunity to help someone in need.

Or maybe, the next time I encounter someone who has been convicted of a crime or has otherwise had a history of failings, I  might be more likely to give them a second chance, because I have been convinced that even people who have committed heinous acts, with disregard for the lives of so many, can change if given the opportunity.

All of these things I have mentioned are real activism rather than slacktivism, but they can all have their start a simple social media campaign.

Slacktivism cannot replace activism, but we are not in an either/or world. If a well-intentioned hashtag leads even one person to an act of virtue which they would not have otherwise undertaken, it would have been worth all the effort (or non-effort!).  

Monica Doumit

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