A Slacktivist’s Guide to Effective Communication

Or “So you just watched the KONY 2012 video”

Shawn Humphrey

I did too, and may I add- good for you! I’m going to share some of my social media and communications wisdom with those of you who are all charged up and, to a lesser degree, the justifiable anti-slacktivism skeptics out there who read this for entertainment purposes. I’ll use a Q&A format to make this easier to read.

(Note: This is not a take-down or endorsement of Invisible Children. We agree something must be done, but I disagree on the how part. They’re to be congratulated for getting the conversation started globally.)

What’s slacktivism?

The pressing of an online button to share a link or email spam your friends. The action is believed to have little to no effect in making a difference on any given cause. It’s a derisive term.

Is slacktivism worthless?

Only if you believe the instantaneous sharing of potentially life-affecting or life-saving information is useless, in which case you’re reading this in the wrong medium. However, being ill-informed on the subject you say you support and spamming people with information doesn’t have a lot of value since it causes people to tune out.

How can it be effective?

Sharing information is most effective when you have a clear communications goal. I recommend one of two focuses; you should first inform from a place of authority and you should then provide a call to action.

How can I be considered a recognized authority?

If you’re a recognized authority on a subject- that is, if you have clearly read up on the issues and can converse as readily about the topic on the phone as you can with Wikipedia to back you up, you may be an authority in your audience’s eyes. In the social media age, you don’t necessarily have to have a degree, though as always, it helps if that’s your primary career or educational focus; having something on your resume always carries more weight. You should be well aware of what those who oppose your view think and be prepared to counter that argument. You should have read material from good sources, primary sources whenever possible. It’s often good to be level-headed and concise.

What’s a call to action?

Petitions are usually a form of call to action. Painting houses, going on a march, feeding the homeless are all forms of action. Spreading the word is another, though that has limited value if “awareness” doesn’t result in some secondary activity. One of the most effective for a situation like that described in “KONY 2012”, in my opinion, is good-old fashioned letter writing. Anyone can fill out a pre-written email or sign a petition. It takes thought and passion to write a letter on paper. I’ve heard that legislative aides give 25 hand-written letters more weight than dozens of emails.

What should we make of “KONY 2012”?

I don’t know, to be honest. I am versed on the subject of the LRA and I support one of Invisible Children’s partners, the Enough Project. But I’m skeptical of giving money to a charity for wristbands, stickers and posters. Couldn’t that money be better focused on building early warning systems for communities at risk from the LRA? (Note: Later research found that IC does partner to support this exact system.)

How could we stop Joseph Kony and the LRA?

If you’ve seen the second half of “Che” and how they got him, tightening the noose does work against small insurgencies. I don’t think bolstering and arming the Ugandan Army will work for two reasons; the LRA largely operates in Central African Republic, South Sudan, and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda shouldn’t be crossing borders to take on militias. Secondly, Uganda is not a free country (see Freedom House 2012 report) and has a fairly robust military largely deployed in Somalia. Over focusing poor African nations on military expenditures is a bad practice that helps entrench dictatorships such as that of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and it encourages bad governance, that is, corruption and a dearth of social services.

For something like this, the countries in question would probably be best served to receive a combination of UN Security Forces – those can be tricky too – a beefed up early warning system for communities at risk from the LRA, a dedicated focus from the global community to improve infrastructure so that remote areas become less remote, and tightened, less porous border crossings.

Why should anyone even care about any of this?

Beyond humanitarian concerns, unchecked, long-running militia and insurgent activities destabilize countries and in places like Africa help to breed poverty, extremism, disease, and bad governance practices. We are not untouched by what happens in Africa, just as we will never be an island from bad things that happen anywhere in the world. One may question the value of intervention given that it can have unforseen consequences. However, an informed decision made in the face of clearly unacceptable conditions such as the Syrian massacres, the activites of Boko Haram in Nigeria, or the lawlessness in Somalia is essential and should be everyone’s business. On one level, we have some vested self-interest. On the other, it’s just the right thing to do.

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About Shawn D. Humphrey

Writer, social media-type worker, bass player, gamer, activist. I read too much about Africa.
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