Social Media 'Slacktivists' Also Play A Role In Activism, According To Study

Dec 09, 2015 04:24 AM EST | By Maria Leonila Masculino

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For critics, people who echo their support for protests, terrorism victims and casualties after tragic natural disasters on social media without really taking concrete action are called "slacktivists." While some people dismiss their intentions, a new study says those who change their profile picture, filters, retweet trending hashtags and post prayers as signs of solidarity also have a role in activism in their own little ways.

Medical Daily reports these "slacktivists" help actual activists spread their message to society. This was shown in the study involving an analysis of tens of millions of tweets supporting social movements such as the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey and the 2012 United for Global Change campaign in Spain.

The team headed by University of Pennsylvania Anneberg School for Communication Professor Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon and New York University's Pablo Barbera compared the tweets posted by those who were physically present at the protests (as indicated in their embedded locations) to those who are tweeting at locations away from protest venues.

Further, the researchers also analyzed the networks of these users to gauge the widespread of information.

According to their findings, actual protestors who posted photos and messages with substantial content composed a small minority in the social network compared to the "critical periphery" group who amplified the messages from the core protestors. Just because these "slacktivists" only retweet messages from activists doesn't mean their motives have gone unnoticed.     

Gonzalez-Bailon pointed out that both "slacktivists" and activists contribute to spreading critical messages across.

"Of course social media doesn't push you to risk your life and take to the streets," Gonzalez-Bailon said in a statement. "But it helps the actions of those who take the risk to gain international visibility."

"Peripheral users are not 'slacktivists,'" she added. "They are quintessential to understand why products for viral or protests go big."

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