Slacktivists have earned their name, study shows

A man is silhouetted against a video screen with an Facebook logo as he poses with an Samsung S4 smartphone in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo - RTX2IVBO

Most people who 'like' a cause on Facebook don't end up doing anything practical to help it, new research suggests.

Fiona McKay, a researcher at Deakin University in Australia, surveyed nearly 4000 people - 2416 who'd liked a pro-asylum seeker Facebook page, and 1688 who'd signed up to the group's newsletter.

What she found was "many of those who had liked the Facebook page were not engaged in actions or activism around issues of asylum seeking beyond liking the Facebook page".

More than 90 percent had signed an online petition or shared stories on social media, but less than a third had donated money - compared to almost two-thirds of those signed up to the group's newsletter.

Only 13 percent of Facebook fans donated food or other goods to asylum seekers, and only 2.3 percent had helped the group fundraise, compared to 6.2 percent of newsletter subscribers.

"Those who had signed up to the newsletter were more likely to be engaged in more direct action towards issues of asylum," Ms McKay notes in the study, published in the Australian Journal of Psychology.

She suggests supporting a pro-asylum seeker group in a less public way - privately signing up to a newsletter, rather than 'liking' their page on Facebook - is a form of "brand management" or conflict avoidance, with polls showing most Australians would prefer asylum seekers were sent away.

As for those who do like the page on Facebook, so many of them identified in her survey as having 'left political views' - three-quarters - that it could be a part of the Facebook "echo chamber, in which individuals are exposed only to information from like-minded individuals".

It remains to be figured out how groups can effectively turn 'likes' into real action, however.

"When the cost of engaging action is low, people do little more than engage in token support."