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David Sable Headshot

Slacktivists, Clicktivists, and Activists

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It was an evil theme park from a bad movie. You know... the kind where the people all look cheerful and the colors are bright and the music is happy, but lurking just below the surface, hiding just beyond sight is the monster that will tear everyone to shreds.

Liken it to an old Hollywood back-lot movie façade -- it all looks so real from the front; the camera captures the authenticity -- but open any door and you step into nothingness.

Last week I was in Prague and, together with some friends and a guide, visited Terezin, also known by its German name Theresienstadt.

Long a Czech fortress built to keep conquering armies out, the Nazis turned it into a concentration camp, changing the keep-out strategy to a keep-in... and used it as a "showplace" of sorts to highlight their true benevolence...

It was a place where people starved to death, but there were two symphony orchestras. Disease ravaged the inmates but there was an opera and a "famous" children's choir. Artists, writers, musicians, poets, cinema and theater directors all flourished at their crafts while awaiting deportation to the death camps if they didn't die of sickness or malnutrition.

The Red Cross came to visit and in a much-publicized report allowed itself to be fooled as did many others -- while in the end, by the time the war was over, most of the inhabitants who passed through its walls were killed including the children.

As we stood in the now peaceful field that is a mass grave of the ashes of thousands, I couldn't help but wonder what would happen today if the situation ever arose again... what about all of those people in surrounding towns and villages who "never" saw or heard or smelled anything? What about governments that neglected to act? What about the average person on the street who should be appalled?

If it happened today, wouldn't our ever-connected social world spring into action? Wouldn't our Tweeting and Sharing and Liking drive action/change the course/save the day?

Wouldn't our # culture turn us all into caped tights-wearing heroes as we sprang into action with burning righteous indignation?

And wouldn't the bad guys cower... knowing that our thumbs were working overtime as, in between our critical posts and shares of where we were and what we were doing, we generously made time to save the world?

Sadly, it is happening today in different ways -- all over the world -- and my fear is that we are allowing ourselves to be fooled like the Red Cross so long ago... and I include myself in this, make no mistake.

Three hundred or so girls have been abducted in Nigeria -- only the latest violence against young women trying to get an education in certain societies with fundamentalist dissenters whose dissent is expressed with terrorism, kidnapping and murder.

But here is the thing -- the self-congratulatory messaging around the social campaign to help them is beginning to outweigh the message of #bringbackourgirls...the digibabble is drowning the action.

Check Google searches -- globally -- the girls hardly register. Look at Facebook... a relatively tiny number of people have raised their hands, and while it seems that some over 1 million tweets and retweets have been registered, what is that really when compared to other events?

And, in the ultimate test, where are the indignant crowds taking to the streets demanding that not only in Nigeria but anywhere in the world this kind of evil cannot and will not be tolerated? Over the weekend in New York there were a couple of protest events that drew very few people.

Here is my fear: We are allowing ourselves to be lulled into complacency. We are fooled by the ease of sharing and liking, and where once we took to the streets or gave money or volunteered our time, we now type a few lines, press send and feel good that we have registered our feelings.

We are participating in public opinion polls, not in real activism.

Much has been written about the "Social Slacktivist" syndrome -- the idea that if you are a "liker" type, you will not necessarily give or volunteer... i.e., you fulfill your obligation with a click, not with money or action. Frankly I have seen data that supports the theory as well as data that debunks or at least neutralizes the thought... meaning that at worst they are no different than the average non-liker in the general population.

One example:‪Kevin Lewis, professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego‪, analyzed the recruitment and donation activity of one of Facebook's most popular advocacy pages. At its height, the "Save Darfur" page had more than 1 million members. But, its donation dollars were paltry in comparison to that figure...Of the entire subset, 99.7 percent of fans never donated a penny.

What is clear though, and if you really analyze the numbers around the missing girls without the filter of trying to prove how great social is (no need, it is great) - there has been no global ignition of indignation and protest -- no real movement of any power and means -- and no definitive groundswell of STOP THE MADNESS.

Look, we live in an amazing time. What if we had had these digital tools in the days of Terezin? Who knows... Maybe the world would be different today.

By my fear remains: While so much good can be done and so much good is being done, we are leaving way too much on the table -- those poor girls among them.

We need to can the digibabble self-congratulatory environment of thinking that we are done when we have registered or shared a feeling...the news reports that spend as much time describing the tweet as they do the issue... listen: "We know what a person thinks not when he tells us what he thinks, but by his actions." Isaac Bashevis Singer

Time to take to the streets; telling is no longer enough. Reread all of the data and info about the beginnings of the original revolt in is so clear. And although technology has given us huge innovation in the efficiency of sharing, thinking and galvanizing action, it is a step backwards for humanity if we think that is an evolutionary step to action.

Like Warby Parker and Bonobos adding retail stores, we need to understand that sometimes we need to add that analog, real-life component to issues -- the get in a crowd and carry a placard action, the give a donation (a serious one), the take time off and volunteer, the don't sleep because you are so upset syndrome, the passion factor that amplifies in person in ways it can't virtually. The digital is our exponential factor, not the solution.

What do you think?