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Is Facebook taking the face out of activism?

Published: October 15, 2010
Section: Opinions


Being residents of the digital age, it seems like the world is at our fingertips. It is possible to check on a laundry cycle, order pizza and watch any movie ever made all from the comfort of our beds. We can communicate with friends and family via text message, email, video chat, or any of a whole host of instant messenger clients. I will be the first to admit that calling the digital age home is pretty sweet; but as a typical Brandeis student, I can’t help but wonder how activism and social justice will be affected by our society’s overwhelming and undeniable switch to digital.

Not understanding my concern?

Let me explain.

As most of us know, due to the flyers and advertisements strewn about campus, this past Monday was “National Coming Out Day.” In honor of the holiday, the Human Rights Campaign led an initiative on Facebook where it encouraged people to “donate” their statuses “to show your support and spread a message of equality.” This type of status campaigning is becoming more and more prevalent as a method for organizations to publicize their causes for all of Facebook to see.

The Human Rights Campaign says in one of their recent status updates that a similar Facebook advertising campaign last year brought them 2.64 million Facebook newsfeed stories, meaning that up to 2.64 million Facebook users were exposed to their message.

Though this kind of free publicity for such a great cause is nothing short of incredible, I can’t help but wonder if there is some inherent devaluing of the message being projected by doing said projection on Facebook. When such important information is being published alongside Texts From Last Night, Weezer quotes, details about our friends’ love lives and quiz results reporting on what Disney Princess we are most like, it seems impossible for these important messages to retain their integrity. I fear that in the same way that we are desensitized to most of the information thrown at us every time we log onto Facebook and look at our newsfeed, we will become desensitized to these charitable status updates.

Another major concern of mine about the use of Facebook activism is the investment of Facebook activists in the causes that they are supporting.

Perusing Facebook—purely for the sake of this research, obviously—I discovered countless groups devoted to different social justice causes from same- sex marriage to preserving democracy in America to providing solidarity to those affected by the genocide in Darfur. Their group memberships varied from hundreds to thousands to hundreds of thousands—and in some case millions.

When looking at these groups, I wonder how many of their members are actually active within the cause which they support, and conversely, how many of these people see joining a group or donating their status as being at an equal level to writing a letter to their congressmen or attending a rally to show support for their cause of choice or maybe even voting.

All Facebook users need to do to show their solidarity is copy and paste a pre-determined message and set it as their status for a given amount of time, or add an application that will do the hard work of typing/copy and pasting/clicking for them. While it is undeniably effective at getting people who might be otherwise disinterested in social justice involved—at least momentarily. I wonder for how many people involvement ends after a liked status or joined group.

Gone are the days where standing up for what you believe in required risking your credibility and sometimes your life in the interest of speaking your mind. Now, all that is required is a keyboard and an internet connection.

Facebook activism can be incredibly effective at getting a message out to millions of viewers and the success of the Human Rights Campaign at spreading their message to 2.64 million Facebook users is impossible to ignore.

However, we must consider the question of whether simply clicking “like” is enough to get people involved and invested in activism, advocacy, social action and social justice. Next time you click “like” to a page or agree to donate your status to a cause, think about it.