The Age of Facebook Activism

I have seen all sorts of groups on facebook. Some make sense to me – like a student group that I am a part of has a facebook group. You can go and see who is in the group. Announcements about gatherings are made. Pictures from functions are posted. But I recently saw a group somewhere along the lines of End the Violence Against (Certain Minority) in (Certain Other Country). I am not listing the exact name because I don’t want to criticize this specific group at all. But my wondering is… what happens when you join this group? I have looked at it. There are not events. It seems like maybe updates can be sent to members about what is happening around this. There is no way to give money. No info on how to get more involved. There are all sorts of silly facebook groups (like Bring Back the Chicken Strips at Tommy’s Diner or I Love That Melon (The Group)) which make sense in that they are meant to be inside jokes or funny or silly.

But for serious things, I have a slightly nagging feeling that I don’t like to be able to join the facebook group about really serious social problems and then get the feeling that, yes, now I have done something for that cause. It reminds me of online petitions – I think by and large (there are probably exceptions) they are a waste of time and energy. So what if a zillion people forwarded something around to end human rights abuses in __________ or to end the war __________ or to ban foie gras in Montreal or whatever and they all signed their names? Who reads that? Who cares? (Please don’t provide me with an exception unless you know of 1000 meaningful exceptions to this.)

It isn’t that I am so much against facebook activism or online petitions in and of themselves, but rather that they provide people who take part with a sense that they are doing something useful when they are not. This raises two questions for me (for which I do not have answers). First, if a MILLION people join your group, does that make a difference? Does it matter or make some sort of statement to someone(s) that care if that many people will join a facebook group? My point being maybe if TONS of people join your group, it does somehow matter (?). And, second, If people couldn’t join facebook groups about their favorite causes, would people then go out and do something actually meaningful? That is, do gestures for a good cause that have no impact whatsoever actually reduce the level of action that does have some sort of impact?

An afterthought is that people on facebook (and online petitioners) feel so helpless to do anything (I mean, what could you do that would be that meaningful to end the war in Iraq or genocide in Darfur without committing a significant amount of time and energy?) that they just do facebook groups or online petitions to somehow address that feeling of helplessness – that is, the idea that people just don’t feel like they have the ability to commit real time an energy to one issue (or to the many issues that may tug at us) so facebook groups are sort of a stop gap measure…a way to represent care for an issue, to announce to friends that something matters to you, with no pretence that it actually does do any good.

Anyway, just some thoughts. No conclusions just yet.

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2 Responses to The Age of Facebook Activism

  1. Jim says:

    I’m brand new to facebook, but it occurs to me that most of the groups really only serve as indicators of what it is that you want the rest of the world to see about your interests, tastes, opinions, etc. Since online social networking is a relatively recent phenomenon, it’s impossible to know if any of the “activist” groups make any difference in the “real” world or not. I joined an Obama for President group, but I had no sense that doing so would really make a difference in the election–I just wanted to make my position known. But I have volunteered time for the campaign and have donated money as well. So I don’t know what any of this means, but it is interesting to me, and I’m glad that you raised the issue.

  2. kw says:

    I share your views here, most people feel HELPLESS and do NOTHING other than clicking!! That’s why I created this tool, which I hope will motivate people to act!
    I would like your opinion and maybe you can put a link/widget on your page too, to test it!

    http://www.dadadiary.com/multiplier/index.php

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