Facebook Slacktivism


Is starting a Facebook group a legitimate form of political protest?

More and more news outlets are using Facebook group numbers and wall posting as facts to back up public opinion on assorted news stories.  All Facebook has an interesting article hypothesizing about whether Facebook is the new Government.

Is Facebook the new government and our government more like supplemental enforcements? The FBI, CIA and police authorities already use Facebook for gathering and pursuing evidence so if Facebook can control that knowledge to the government its obvious the power is in the hands of Facebook, since Facebook is not dependent on the government for data [All Facebook]

That’s an interesting take on the role Facebook is playing in our lives, how it is starting to govern business and government.  But are the actions we take on Facebook legitimate enough to be considered political activism?

Take the recent flack over the spending of MPs and whether or not they should be subjected to an audit.  The MPs resisted the notion and Facebook groups sprouted up urging parliament to open the books.  The news media reported on the Facebook groups as if they were the online equivalent to marches in the streets.
[Global National, May 25, 2010]

Facebook groups are easy to join and a great way to rally people behind a cause, but that can’t be the end of the action.  To simply click a like button isn’t a meaningful enough way to show your like or dislike of a cause, headline, political decision or policy.

The irony is that Facebook is so crucial to the organizing of political activism that it often becomes the tool Facebook citizens wield against their opressor as the site has fumbled through privacy policy changes.

Facebook needs to be the way to gather momentum for a cause, but for it to become legitimate and serious some “in real life” action needs to accompany it.

To say 10 000 people are in a Facebook group against “x” cause, doesn’t really mean anything.  It’s too easy to click “like” to join the group.  There’s no real action or committment required by the protestor beyond that.  They may be genuinely sincere in their support, but the gesture is just too subtle to be considered meaningful.

Asking people to sign petitions has long been sought as a way to collect public voices in one loud yell to affect change and, in a way, Facebook has become Petition 2.0.  But even petitions are easily lampooned as insignificant since persuasive people could get others to sign just about anything.

Some causes, Betty White To Host SNL for example, need nothing more than a groundswell of public opion and popular culture momentum to affect their desired outcome.

In this specific case, without any monumental political protests, the MPs turned tail and made ammends with Sheila Fraser to allow auditing, but that’s not the case with all Facebook groups urging change.  While the few successes seem to add legitimacy to Facebook activism, there are dozens of causes fading online because the group isn’t motivated to act beyond the mouse. 

Facebook can be the town square where people meet and organize, but it has to move beyond that to real action.  Otherwise it’s just a click, it’s just a like and it doesn’t mean a thing.

catch the buzz … pass it on.

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