From Slacktivism to Activism:
Participatory Culture in the Age of
Social networking sites (e.g. Facebook), microblogging
services (e.g. Twitter), and content-sharing sites (e.g.
YouTube and Flickr) have introduced the opportunity for
wide-scale, online social participation. Visibility of
national and international priorities such as public
health, political unrest, disaster relief, and climate
change has increased, yet we know little about the
benefits—and possible costs—of engaging in social
activism via social media. These powerful social issues
introduce a need for scientific research into technology
mediated social participation. W hat are the actual,
tangible benefits of ―greening‖ Twitter profile pictures in
support of the Iranian elections? Does cartooning a
Facebook profile picture really raise awareness of child
abuse? Are there unintended negative effects through
low-risk, low-cost technology-mediated participation?
And, is there a difference—in both outcome and
engagement level—between different types of online
social activism? This SIG will investigate technology
mediated social participation through a critical lens,
discussing both the potential positive and negative
outcomes of such participation. Approaches to
designing for increased participation, evaluating effects
of participation, and next steps in scientific research
directions will be discussed.
Copyright is held by the author/owner(s).
CHI 2011, May 7–12, 2011, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Copyright 2011 ACM 978-1-4503-0267-8/11/05....
College of Information Studies
University of Maryland
Technology, Media & Society
University of Colorado, Boulder
Georgia Institute of Technology
Ed H. Chi
Mountain View, CA
College of Information Studies
University of Maryland
Dept. of Computer Science
University of Maryland
Palo Alto Research Center
Palo Alto, CA
New American Foundation
Social media, activism, slacktivism, participation,
ACM Classification Keywords
H5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g.,
In 1997, 122 countries signed an international treaty to
ban landmines. One of the key drivers of the treaty
passage was the work of the International Campaign to
Ban Landmines (ICBL). The ICBL is touted as one of the
most successful international efforts to promote and
achieve humanitarian goals. The success of the ICBL
would not have been possible without the use of
Internet technologies and computer-mediated
communication . Fast forward a decade. In 2010,
during the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake
that devastated Haiti, the International Red Cross (IRC)
launched a campaign asking people to donate money
towards relief efforts, via text message. Four days after
the quake, $7 million dollars had been raised. A cellular
carrier spokesperson explained that the ease of using
text messages to donate to charities has ―opened up a
whole new world for philanthropy.‖ 
We know technology can be used to help raise
awareness and create change. But does the rising use
of social media to produce meaningful change echo the
same success experienced by the IRC and the ICBL?
Does ―greening‖ a Twitter profile picture (Figure 1)
have the same effect as an email campaign to stop the
spread of landmines? W hen people partake in activism
via social media, are they doing anything meaningful?
Most people might agree that social media participation
raises awareness of, if not k nowledge about, social
issues; however, it is less clear whether raising
awareness translates into more meaningful and
tangible societal benefits.
Technology mediated social participation has been
harnessed for social welfare in a number of novel ways.
Twitter use during mass emergency situations to gather
and distribute timely, relevant information, or creating
a platform for guidance and support of gay and lesbian
teens on YouTube are examples of the potential value
of social media use by large numbers of people that
might lead to wide-scale progress. These, and similar
phenomena, introduce new research opportunities in
the social and computational fields for the development
of methods, analytic tools and metrics, design
approaches and theory.
There is a need for scientific research that examines
the effects of participation through social media at an
individual and collective level, and for design directions
that support social participation in new ways . These
understandings will lead to the development of social
media tools that can work to increase the motivation
and ability of users to participate in social change. The
goal of this SIG is to discuss and debate the merits of
social participation through social media.
Topic 1: Characterizing Online Participation
In 2009 and 2010, awareness and social activism
campaigns flourished via various social media. They
ranged from changes made to users’ online
representation (posting suggestive Facebook statuses
about the location of one’s purse in support of breast
cancer awareness) to acts that extended beyond the
online presence (wearing particular clothing on a
Figure 1. Greening of Twitter
profile picture to support democratic
election in Iran.
particular day as a symbolic support of a cause). They
also involved efforts that used social media as a vehicle
to distribute information (e.g. YouTube campaigns) and
offers of social support (e.g. Facebook groups). Figure
2 represents the activity flow that leads to activism or
―slacktivism1‖, and highlights the role of social media as
a facilitator of action. Across these contexts, a number
of questions emerge:
What technologies have successfully motivated or
enabled ―practical activism?‖2 Are certain types of
technology, specifically social media, better suited
to support practical activism?
What is the relationship between ―practical
activism‖ and activism via social media?
In what ways does slacktivism promote awareness?
Does awareness translate to further action or
How is virtual civic-disobedience occurring?
How should social media participation be handled
when activism goes ―rogue‖ as in the case of
Finally, why do people participate in social issues using
social media? Some possible reasons could be ease of
access, speed and efficiency of online mediums, affinity
for a particular cause, observing support from friends
and peer groups, and a positive feeling about oneself
through participation. There is little research examining
these questions. One of the goals of this SIG is to bring
1 We define ―slacktivism‖ as low-risk, low-cost activity via social
media, whose purpose is to raise awareness, produce change,
or grant satisfaction to the person engaged in the activity.
2 We define ―practical activism‖ as the use of a direct, proactive
and often confrontational action towards attaining a societal
together researchers and practitioners to brainstorm
future directions in participatory culture research.
Topic 2: Research Directions
In October 2010, Malcolm Gladwell published a
provocative article in the ―The New Yorker,‖  arguing
that social actions on social media sites are nowhere
near ―practical activism‖ (e.g. Tiananmen Square or the
civil rights movement in the U.S.). Most might agree
that sending a tweet or changing a profile is not the
same as a lunch counter sit-in or a bus boycott;
however, what social media can provide is a way to
facilitate awareness of issues at a much larger scale
which may translate into further action. The goals of
this SIG are to promote a scientific agenda around
technology mediated social participation. Such goals
include aligning this agenda with national and
international priorities such as health, disaster relief,
and climate change, and developing directions for
research on the effects of social media participation.
Research questions may include the following:
How does social media use for activist purposes
compare to use for non-activist purposes?
How are attitudes towards movements impacted by
social media activism?
In what ways are users motivated to promote
activist movements through online or offline
In what ways are the process and outcomes of
activist movements impacted by social media?
Topic 3: Theoretical Implications and
New theories or refinement of existing theories are
needed to better understand the design and evaluation
Figure 2. A process diagram of
social media based activism and
of participatory technologies. This might involve
theories about motivation and persuasion [1, 3] to
encourage participation. T heories about risk and cost
 might also help understand motivation to
participate in slacktivism, and how that may or may not
lead to activism. We should also consider where
theories about strong and weak ties  work well and
where the fall short. Finally, activism can involve
aggressive struggles to attain rights, establish equality,
or balance power . Social media has proven to be a
useful tool in distributing information that creates and
enhances awareness, giving rise to the following
How can we gauge and evaluate effectiveness? e.g.
do more women get tested for breast cancer due to
a Facebook campaign?
How does online participation relate to participation
in high-risk, high-cost social participation?
How can we design and evaluate online tools for
This SIG will create a network of researchers who share
an interest in designing and evaluating technologies for
social change. Topics for discussion will include (1)
instances of technology-related activism, slacktivism, or
other social participation; (2) whether these instances
were successful or not, and alternatively - how they
could have been improved; (3) ideas for design,
theories, methods, or toolkits to measure and evaluate
online social participation and how we might extend
evaluations to related practical activism.
We welcome participants who have experience in
designing or researching and evaluating participatory
social media as well as interested newcomers. Our
goals are to initiate critical discussions of the role of
social media in online activism and generate ideas for
next steps in research on technology mediated social
participation. We expect to produce: case studies of
successful online activism, tools and techniques for
measuring outcomes, theoretical frameworks for
understanding online activism, and design ideas for
increasing social participation.
We thank participants in the TMSP workshops that took
place in December 2009 and April 2010.
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