You see them everywhere: “Like if you hate child slavery,” “If we get 10 000 online signatures we can end Chinese sweat shops forever.” And clicking or typing in your postal code gives you a slight sense of satisfaction. If there are that many “likes” and that many signatures, surely someone in power will see it and be motivated to do something, right? Wrong. Writing emphatically in all capital letters is not the same as physically yelling about something upsetting, whether it’s child slavery, oil sands or your roommate that keeps eating your peanut butter (who does he think he is?).
“Likes” are a solution that could only exist because we’re disconnected. Widespread Internet use bombards us with pressing causes and heartache. Because of the ubiquity of the Internet, we’re exposed to every pressing cause and heartache of everyone from everywhere. There is fatigue, certainly, as there are humanitarian disasters and problems to solve all the time. Witnessing global problems while caught in a lethargic political system is frustrating. The “like,” however, is the psychological sugar-pill for our heavy-hearted wish to see a better world. Facebook “likes” as a call-to-arms are lazy.
No matter how many “Internet points” a movement receives, “likes” are still simply “slacktivism”: the notion that things will change while you’re in a chair behind your screen. Hitting “like” doesn’t do anything — passive activism is an oxymoron. Everyone behind a screen is thinking the same thing, all waiting for someone else to pick up the bill. The only person that can actually make a difference is you — the individual — by actually making your physical presence and frustrations known. It’s easy for the government to ignore “likes,” emails and online petitions because there’s a distance between the government and the people. Now if 10 000 people walk to the government’s door demanding change, that’s something officials, the media and the world can’t ignore.
Until the walls fall down around us, we’re content to sit behind them and pretend everything is actually going to be all right. Rather than clickfully dismissing, shouldn’t we elect a government that will oversee our aspirations, lead by example and find more effective ways to help? Rather than only clicking a button, organize a peaceful protest or make people aware of the situation in person. A physical presence — hooting and hollering, chants and passion — needs to follow the click of the mouse. Social media enhances protest; it cannot replace it.
Not everyone can drop everything and join Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) or donate large sums of money. There are, however, simple and effective ways to change the world for the better. Try being more connected to your donation by joining a micro-lending institution like Kiva Microfunds. If possible, commit yourself to being a big brother or sister, and actually attach a piece of your heart to your donation. Become a global citizen.