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Solidarity with Ukraine or Slacktivism?


Each month, scores of socially significant topics compete for our attention. From environmental awareness, to local and global politics, to the predicament of minorities or the mistakes of the majority. Wars, armed conflicts, smog, natural disasters – all briefly acknowledged, filtered through the news, all are vying for our opinion. What’s needed is an expression that is safe, sympathetic, but clear enough to the individual’s social media circle of friends and observers to classify the person expressing the opinion as a socially sensitive person. Even if they only swapped plastic bags for reusable bags as part of their eco-friendly efforts, nothing prevents them from giving giving themselves  #zerowaste status.

The trend of slacktivism, (a combination of the word slack and activism) is very popular among social media users. It’s  based on safe, cursory expression of opinions and virtual support for social action. The trend has been defined by the United Nations as supporting a cause through simple means, but without committing or sacrificing to bring about social change. Sometimes the trend is also called clicktivism, due to the ease with which we like posts or comments. As a result, we are giving a virtual thumbs up instead of demonstrating or working for a chosen community.

There is a huge difference between reacting with a heart or teardrop on a social media post and demonstrating on the street or feeding dogs at a shelter. On the other hand, however, for the millennial generation and the Alpha generation, or individuals born after 2010, who are entering the ideology market, the virtual world is a natural environment in which they express views and shape their attitudes. According to a 2018 report by Viacom Marketing and Partner Insights, millennials consider online activity to be a meaningful, yet safe form of influencing reality. 16 percent more millennials surveyed compared to Generation X before them are willing to sign an online petition. Millennials also vote with their wallets: as many as 86 percent of them say that a brand’s social engagement significantly influences their decision to buy that brand’s product. A 25-year-old quoted in the qualitative study explains that sharing content about a social issue of her choice on her social media gives her a sense that she is building awareness among others about the issue, and signing an online petition reinforces her belief that she is “doing something small to help.” The truth is, social media has the potential to make the illusion of caring look quite easy, however this also has the potential to be abused and misused at times of genuine crisis.

A measure of commitment

On February 24, Russia attacked Ukraine. All around the world, both businesses and private individuals showed numerous gestures of solidarity.

As the images of war dominated news coverage, social media platforms were awash in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. 

Businesses all over the world changed their logos to reflect the national colors of Ukraine. Many people felt compelled to declare their support publicly, because, at that moment, not saying something was the equivalent of not caring. 

From the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Poland, like no other country, was gripped by a breathtaking mobilization, mostly through social media.  Individuals organized fundraisers and stockpiled nececcasaties for their feeling neighbors.

Within hours, warehouses collecting aid for refugees were overflowing, and border crossings were lined with vehicles from all parts of the country. These cars not only carried in-kind aid, but also took refugees with them. The openness with which Poles were prepared to receive those fleeing Ukraine into their own homes was also admirable.  Surprisingly, the people of Poland were not motivated by fear or optics, but by an unprecedented sense of solidarity with the neighboring country’s brothers and sisters fleeing the war. 

Nevertheless, not everyone is a passionate world-changing activist and not everyone pitched in and helped out equally.  There were those, motivated purely by optics, who also  placed themselves at the center of the narrative, for the sake of validating their egos. 

There were others who used the conflict in Ukraine as opportunistic, performative activism.

Likes don't save lives

Performative activism is easy, however it will not stop the atrocities occurring in Ukraine, nor will it help the millions of refugees who fled the country. 

It’s done more with the intent to increase your own social capital, rather than a genuine interest in helping the actual cause.

We have to be cognizant of the fact that posting a “No to War” graphic won’t put an end to the mounting death toll in Ukraine. 

Yes, support, even when it’s purely symbolic, is important. Although posting a message on a social media platform might seemingly signify to the world, “I am aware this is going on right now. I care!” However, in reality, it does very little.

It’s important to know that even though the conflict may seem like it’s far away, there are things we can do to help those in need. Things that go beyond only publicly posting about our support for Ukraine. 

We can make thoughtful, meaningful contributions to those in need by not only making donations to the organizations helping with the humanitarian effort on the ground, but we can also contribute our time by helping the refugees who have found safety in numerous countries around the world. 

While our gestures of solidarity may seem small, we should know that there are ways to help beyond the confines of our social media pages.

Article author: Ursula Gaiko

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