Social Media

Tangible Effects Of Facebook Activism

In The New Yorker feature, “Small Change,” Malcolm Gladwell makes some astute observations about the impact of the social networks on social activism. “Social media can’t provide what social change has always required,” he believes.

The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to stay in touch with.

That’s why you can have a 5,000 “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

Facebook is an extended, if a more glorious, and collaborative version of a traditional phone book. But it’s a catalog of a few friends and many strangers.

That said, the Internet, Gladwell writes, allows us to “exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency.”

But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.

Social networks are effective at increasing participation [in social movements]—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.

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 aren’t motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.

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 35 cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, 15 cents.

But does that help “save” Darfur? The effects of Facebook activism, don’t translate into concrete, tangible, and actionable results.



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