There is something making me sick today, and it's not COVID-19.
It's slacktivism masquerading as awareness campaigns.
Slacktivism from a consumer perspective is taking a small, easy, and ultimately inconsequential action to show your support for a cause. And we're talking real small. It's liking and sharing a status. Or putting a certain filter or logo on your profile picture to promote a charity. It's a way for you to feel like you did something, without doing anything at all.
But what about the people who come up with the status message or filter designed to be shared? Are they guilty of slacktivism, too?
Unequivocally, yes. But it's even worse, because there's an ulterior motive behind those "initiatives" (a word that carries too much gravitas for what these things actually are) that has nothing to do with promoting the cause and everything to do with the creators and their own careers.
The worst thing I can say about a slacktivist sitting at home on their couch liking and reposting is that they are just industrious enough to virtue-signal but too lazy to do anything meaningful to affect change. But it's not like they'll win an award or get a promotion or a raise for clicking that thumb or heart. They'll feel better about themselves for about thirty seconds and move on with their day. Actual activists may argue that slacktivists dilute their efforts, but in certain cases, they may also amplify them. In my opinion, it all comes out in the wash.
That's a very different mindset than a creative director looking at a worldwide pandemic that has been killing thousands of people and thinking, hmm, how can I turn this into a career opportunity?
At least, I assume that was the thought process behind the creators of an inane, tone-deaf COVID-related Instagram account that added me this morning. The account obsessively demands that all of society stay home for just two weeks. In just two weeks, the posts say, the virus will die on contaminated surfaces. And people take about two weeks to start showing symptoms, so if anyone is sick at the end of the two week period, we'll know exactly who needs to get tested. And then there's the Nike-esque call to action: How will YOU spend your #twoweeks? (Yes, they invented a hashtag.)
I'll tell you how I'm not going to spend my two weeks. I'm not going to convince myself that an Instagram account full of artfully designed posts will somehow reason with the unreasonable in a way that the WHO, CDC, or mainstream media simply couldn't. Or get a minimum-wage employee to quit, even though they can't afford to.
It should be noted that it is these exact employees—grocery store cashiers, pharmacy stockpeople, bus drivers, waste collectors—who are holding society together right now and keeping us from devolving into total chaos. And they are not heroes. It's not like they have the choice to stay home, yet bravely come into work anyway because they care so deeply about making sure Susan can get her grapes and taco meat. These are desperate people who do not have the luxury to protect themselves right now, and have no choice but to put their lives at risk.
But I guess we can hold out hope that if they happen to come across this stupid Instagram account, all those problems will go away.
I want to be angry at the people who made this account, but I have to remind myself to direct my anger towards the system; the industry; the pressures from above, and therefore, within, that burrow their way into creatives' minds like parasites and make them produce these Pyrrhic campaigns. No, the industry stinks from the head down. Creative directors, even CCOs, only seem like they're at the top of the food chain, but really, they answer to the whims of holding companies and award show juries; bending over not backwards, but forwards, to do more, earn more, win more.
If the creators of that Instagram account are reading this, I encourage you to spend your #twoweeks donating to COVID relief funds for those who have been laid off, buying or making hand sanitizer and distributing it to people who need it, and coming up with campaigns for your brands that empathize harder than they sell.
If that's too much work, I guess you could just give this article a "like."