Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

Why social media sucks as a political change tool

The New Yorker’s Malcom Gladwell wonders how people managed to fight for change in the U.S. civil rights era when they didn’t even have email, let alone Facebook groups.

These few grafs are the meat of his article, headlined “Small change:”

Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.

Remember Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament? That link goes to a feature I wrote back in January. You might also want to read the sidebar: The prorogation backlash — Citizens in conversation.

But tell me this: When did you last hear about CAPP? It still lists 210,000 members. But check out its Facebook wall. It’s been taken over by nutters, at least when I just looked at it. Not much talk of prorogation, but lots of chatter about 9/11 truth and colonization.

Maybe the group will be revived if there’s another parliamentary crisis, but from my perspective, it’s a great example of how a group can both form and fizzle quickly in response to a particular set of circumstances.

Saying you’re mad about prorogation is one thing. Working on a sustained basis for democratic reform? That might be asking a bit much of social media. It’s certainly more than social media can deliver.


Ding! Ding! Ding! This was my 7,000th post since starting this blog back in August 2004.

Mon, September 27 2010 » * Big Picture Stuff, Main Page, Media