Sunday, January 31, 2010

Facebook as a Tool for Political Action

As someone that has tried to use Facebook groups for political action, I find they are amazingly ineffective. But even given that they are ineffective, I am shocked to hear from Bill Tieleman that two of his Facebook groups have disappeared. One has to suspect that they were taken down because they were political and had some content that Facebook used as a reason to delete the groups.

He managed to get some decent membership in No BC HST and Axe the BC Gas Tax (I can not link to them as they are not available on Facebook). But how much difference have they made? Have they really pushed the protests further forward?

Clicking join for a Facebook Group is easy to do, easier than signing a petition, but my experience has been that the vast majority of people that join a group are not only not unwilling to take real action, they get annoyed if you send them messages asking them to get involved. As a tool it is by far much weaker than almost any other available.

I used Facebook a lot in the STV campaign in BC and I am not certain it really had much of an impact on the outcome - we were badly defeated, though still the second best results for electoral reform in Canada.

On Facebook a group works reasonably well as a communication tool for the administrators as long as the group stays belong 5000 members. Once you breach that number you are no longer allowed to send messages to the members.

Much has been made of the fact that the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament Facebook group has a membership of 221,368 people, but this is only 1.75% of the voting age Canadians on Facebook. Given the scale of the protests were no larger than one could expect by basic word of mouth and were hardly larger than the usual suspects at protests, I can see very little evidence that the Facebook group has made any difference on the ground.

Facebook gives us the illusion of connecting with large numbers of people that are supposedly on our side with respect to a political action, but in reality it wastes our energies from building real in person political connections. Knocking on your neighbours door is more effective than Facebook in my opinion.


Catherine Novak said...

You're right - I wonder if, in fact, it's counter-productive to real action because people press "like" or join a group or page or follow a worthy cause on Twitter, and feel they have done their bit.

When consulting with businesses and causes, I've always emphasized that social media is a good first step, but it needs to be followed up by subsequent steps in the Real World. We need more people who donate time and effort to their causes, and make real change by educating, fundraising, lobbying - doing the work!

Unknown said...

I think FaceBook as a tool for political action is about as effective as online petitions. Meaning, not at all. One distinction between effective online action and ineffective is exchange of money - if you can raise funds for a political campaign online then you might get something useful. But then, perhaps I lived in the US too long.

Anonymous said...

He has had one group reappear, i feel it was just a glitch. Generally I do not agree with tielman however I do support all views on any subject and their right to post them, even if some of the hysteria coming form the public sector and the miltants involved use these as further tools to spread misinformation. As with any group, people need to do their homework and understand the bias of either the right left or indifferent.