One of the most prominent boycotts in recent weeks was directed toward Uber, as CEO Travis Kalanick joined President Donald Trump’s Economic and Policy Forum. The hashtag #DeleteUber went viral, causing people to delete the app and opt for Lyft instead. According to The New York Times, over 200,000 customers deleted their accounts and Lyft skyrocketed to the top of download charts. More recently and locally, the National Organization for Women called for a boycott of Wegmans, as the popular grocery chain sells Trump Winery products.
Do these actions really create change and help those affected by Trump’s actions?
A digital activism study conducted by Cone Communications in 2014 reported that 75 percent of millennials use social media to discuss important issues. In light of recent events, student activism online has proliferated. Although students are mobilizing and coming together to support common causes, these methods of activism are often questionable.
Although consumers have the right to choose which companies they patronize, a boycott of Uber, Wegmans or any company that merely supports Trump will not affect political change. The Wegmans boycott proved to be unsuccessful when Trump Winery products sold out in the Virginia stores — purchased in support of the president. The Uber boycott was successful in causing Kalanick to step down from the advising position, but this changes little about politics.
In such a pivotal and ever-changing time, people who feel the need to make a difference cannot engage in “slacktivism.” Tweeting a hashtag, deleting an app and saving money by not shopping at Wegmans do not have much weight on one’s daily life, especially for a busy and broke college student. However, college campuses should be where real action takes place.
We should all learn from the group of Binghamton University students who got together and wrote 60 letters to the president and their state and local representatives. A large group of young, educated people coming together to achieve a common goal is significantly stronger than a meaningless hashtag or grocery store boycott. These are the methods of real activism that college students should be engaging in.
Although social media fuels slacktivism, it can still be an effective way to remain engaged. Professor Philip Howard of the University of Washington, who conducted a study on the effectiveness of digital activism, believes that small acts of support online are still significant. This is true — it is important for everyone to understand each side of an issue, and a simple way to stay informed is through social media.
It is acceptable to view social media as an important way to share viewpoints and organize boycotts, but it cannot be the only way students fight for change. Slacktivism is an easy trap to fall into due to its convenience. However, we must keep in mind that real political change only comes from real action. This means taking the time to write a letter or to call a senator, attending local political events and taking part in midterm elections. Social media has its advantages, but real, grassroots action is the only way to achieve results.
Emily Kaufman is a sophomore majoring in English.