I was quoted in an article in today’s Washington Post on Facebook activism. The article, entitled “Facebook’s Easy Virtue: Click-Through Activism Broad but Fleeting”, challenges the significance of Facebook activism and the value of its offline effects since most members of activist groups on Facebook do not take action beyond the first click. Here is my quote:
- …what Mary Joyce calls “the pluses and minuses for the low bar of entry” of Facebook groups. Joyce is the co-founder of
- , an organization that helps grass-roots activists figure out how to use digital technology to boost their impact.
The low bar of entry means that joining — or starting — a cause is easy, and that causes can reach and educate a wide range of people. That’s the plus. But that ease also means that well-intentioned groups could balloon to thousands of members, most of whom lack activism experience.”Commitment levels are opaque,” says Joyce, who last year took a leave from DigiActive to work as new-media operations manager for Barack Obama’s campaign. “Maybe a maximum of 5 percent are going to take action, and maybe it’s closer to 1 percent. . . . In most cases of Facebook groups, members do nothing. I haven’t yet seen a case where the Facebook group has led to a sustained movement.”
There have, of course, been big examples of single-event success: The Internet-based organization Burma Global Action Network began as one American’s Facebook group, formed to support monks’ protest. The group coordinated a global “day of action” in 2007 that drew protesters around the world. More measurably, the release of Fouad Mourtada, imprisoned for impersonating a member of Moroccan royalty online, was attributed in part to protests that began on Facebook and Flickr and spread offline. And politically, Obama’s campaign was famously driven by social networking participation.
But more often the stories of Facebook activism look like Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement earlier this year, in which a Facebook group calling for a national strike in support of laborers gained a much-publicized 75,000 Facebook members . . . and then fizzled out in real life.
In some ways, it’s harder to cite the failures than the successes, because there are simply so many of them, disintegrating before they reach the public’s eye. Even some of the success stories are qualified: Participation in the Burma network decreased as coverage of it fell out of the news, Joyce says.
You can read the full story here.