Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign

The Spread The Word to End the Word is a United States national campaign encouraging individuals to sign a petition to stop using the word “retard”. Six years ago the campaign organizers launched the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign to build awareness for society to stop and think about its use of the R-word. The campaign is online based and there is a direct website that supports the campaign. However, the problem with the website is that it limits the campaign to the Internet. This being said, access is an issue with the campaign; it limits people who don’t have access to Internet and contributes to the digital divide. The website also displays the use of social media activism. The use of sites like Facebook and Twitter help make a movement for the campaign. However, while many people argue that Facebook and Twitter do contribute to the campaigns success, many argue that the campaign uses slacktivism. This means that simply liking a Facebook page doesn’t exactly help the issue at hand.


Through its website, the Spread The Word to End the Word campaign advocates the use of language that respects the dignity of individuals with various mental disabilities. The campaign launched with rallies in grades Kindergarden-12 schools and universities around the country, enlisting young individuals to combat use of the word and collecting more than 100,000 signatures to pledge inclusion and respect towards all people. As a result, thousands of college campuses, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools have launched campaigns in their personal communities.

The website includes a tab that explains how to take action by tweeting about it, sharing stories, and how to approach others who use the r-word. The website also features various pictures of individuals with intellectual disabilities symbolizing strength and dedication to gaining respect. The photos create sympathy towards individuals and teach others about the struggles of individuals with disabilities. The website also features news, events, and videos of various “Spread the Word”PSAs. The website also includes a store where one can purchase various items such as t-shirts, hats, buttons, and bracelets.  The website is a large forum for individuals to post personal stories on how the r-word effects them or the ones around them. People can post from all over the world and read others’ inspiring and intellectual stories. The website is a youth driven Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.52.02 AM
campaign and everyday there are young people, as well as family members and advocates, who are creating change in schools and communities. Here’s an example of the “Not Acceptable”PSA with star of Glee, Lauren Potter stating that it’s not acceptable to use the word ‘retard”


The website contains many opportunities for contributing to the issue. It gives ideas on how to spread the word by using Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and Youtube videos. These are all clear examples of using social media to make a social movement. The campaign has hash tags and twitter handles that help keep the organization together and clear of what their goal is. However, while using social media seems to be very beneficial to the campaign, it sometimes is a form of slacktivism. Many people believe that the act sharing a post, or liking a page isn’t exactly supporting or contributing to a campaign. While many argue about whether these sites provide social movements or are just easy ways to say you contributed, many consider the affects that the online aspect of the campaign has on the actual success of it.

When it comes to analyzing the website, access is a major component to the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. Access is defined as the ability to connect/access the Internet on a computer. But when it comes to the r-word website, the site does not advocate any offline opportunities and limits the opportunity to sign the pledge to only individuals with access. There are not many print ads, if any, for Spread the Word to End the Word, as the majority of the campaign uses online tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. If an individual does not have access to Internet, he or she most likely will not see these ads, stories, photos, and reasons to stop using the R-word. There also seems to be no available pledge to sign that isn’t online, meaning if an individual doesn’t have the privilege or access of a computer/Internet, then they don’t have the opportunity to sign the pledge. The makers of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign are not advocating any offline opportunities so those without access to Internet are being somewhat neglected.

Another component of this campaign is their use of social media activism. Access is a clear issue when it comes to the Spread the Word to End the Word campaigns. The reason that access is such a problem and contributes to the digital divide is because the campaigns are a very clear example of social media activism. Social media activism is a broad category of activism that utilizes media and communication technologies for social and political movement. Some examples of this include posting news on websites, creating video investigations, and organizing campaigns related to media and communication policies. The website for Spread the Word to End the Word contains several examples of this. For example, right when you get on the main page it says, “Join Us to End the Word”and “We are spreading the word on your favorite sites. Join us!”Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.09.00 AMThese sites include Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. There is also an option on the page that says “Take Action”and in this option it says the first step to taking action is to tweet about it and provides a tweet you can copy and past to your Twitter account. Two examples of the use of social media activism for this campaign are Twitter and Facebook. On Spread the Word to End the Word’s Twitter page, there are many tweets that pertain to ending the use of the R-word. In their bio on twitter they have a statement that says, “Join Special Olympics and Best Buddies in eliminating the demeaning use of the R-word in everyday speech.”This is a prime example of using media to make a social movement.Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.15.38 AM The posts contain a wide variety of statements. Some of the posts are people posting about how the use of the R-word makes them feel and some are other twitter accounts that are also spreading awareness. The twitter account contains several images and videos of a variety of people speaking their thoughts on the campaign and the use of the R-word. The Facebook page is the same idea. When you enter the page the first thing you see is the hash tag #Rword and it is brought to the users attention that it is a Non-Profit Organization. The Facebook contains more posts and experiences with the R-word. There are also videos and images with the ability to like and share every post. Each site allows the users to know when and where certain events are happening. They provide ways to get involved like joining Best Buddies, which is a group that mentors young disabled students. Many different companies post on the sites to show their support. However, while these campaigns are clearly using social media for social movements, it can also be argued that this campaign pertains to slacktivism as well.

Slacktivism consists of online causes that have commercial components. This usually includes the signing of online Internet petitions, Facebook and social media campaigns, and often t-shirt and bracelet sales. The campaigns usually require little personal effort and there is little impact in actually helping the involved cause. Slacktivism is a description of those who click the Facebook like and share buttons with no need to spend time on arguments or organizing groups. As was stated, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all huge contributors to the issue, slacktivism.. However, the components in actually impacting the issue consist of following their twitter account and liking their Facebook page. Under the “Take Action”tab on the campaign’s website it tells you steps you can take and it says “One of the best, easiest things to do is follow us on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube. Links are at right.”Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.14.01 AMThis is a direct example of what slacktivism is, it does not require any particular effort nor does it impact the issue at all. It is simply pressing a button and saying you contributed, and the website clearly agrees that it is a form of helping the issue. Another example of slacktivism on their website is one of their biggest components and it is the online pledges. Right when you get onto the website it says the number of online pledges that have been posted to this date. The pledge is already typed out for the users, with the option of typing your own. However, all the pledge is, is a posting on their website, Facebook, or Twitter that says you pledge to not use the R-word. Which clearly requires little effort considering the pledge is already typed out for you. The final example of slacktivism that is involved with this campaign is their RWordStore. This store contains shirts, bracelets, posters, pins, hats, and buttons that are used to spread the word Respect instead of ‘Retard.’Once again, the selling and buying of a t-shirt isn’t exactly a way of making a movement.

Spread the Word to End the Word is a national campaign that spreads awareness to end the use of the word ‘retard.’ Their websites and campaigns are clear examples of activism. Activism consists of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, and environmental change, or stasis. This campaign also contains clear examples of the problem with access in today’s globalized society, social media activism, and slacktivism. This campaign is widely known throughout the US and could have very beneficial outcomes. However, the lack of offline tools makes this difficult. The campaign organizers could fix this issue if they provided more flyers and posters around communities and campuses. They could also organize fundraisers or more guest speakers to visit local communities. This campaign has enormous potential, it’s whether or not we continue to spread the word offline and online that will truly determine the difference it makes.




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