My mother joined Facebook this past weekend and already she’s had her first lesson in the pseudo-reality of online social networking. I remarked in a telephone conversation that I was going to buy some rum and she said “Oh, that’s right. You’re making mojitos with Chris and Jess tonight.” To which I replied “Do you realize how it is you know that?” “You told me,” was her assured response. “Nope” I said. “You read it on Facebook.”
It’s so easy to mistake the internet for reality these days: “Friendships” we carry on by a simple click of the “like” button on someone’s Facebook status, or the short and tone-absent emails we send through cyberspace all day long. With the viral nature of information these days and the emergence of Facebook “Cause” pages, it seems that progressive movements have begun to shift their focus to the internet.
There are several things that I worry about in regard to online movements:
Is it too easy for efforts to become fractured?
There are more than 11,000 members of Join The Impact’s Facebook Group “Decline 2 Sign,” which is working toward keeping a referendum off the ballot that would take away domestic partnership rights in Washington State. Several other organizations also have “Decline 2 Sign” Facebook groups, creating confusion and detracting from a united front. When creating a cause takes 5 minutes and minimal expertise, does this encourage too many people to create their own tiny movements in lieu of jumping onto the larger bandwagon?
Are we leaving people out?
Yes, a large number of our parents are on Facebook now. But how many of our grandparents are there? And what about socioeconomic factors that make online access an issue for some.
Are we breeding complacency?
People are under the illusion that they are creating change, when in fact, what they’re doing is preaching to the choir. Yes, we all have cousins, aunts, and uncles who don’t share our political beliefs. But for the most part, our friend lists are chock full of people who are just like us. At a certain point, are we just sitting around patting each other on the back for our superior social awareness?
How powerful are words on a screen?
Perhaps when we rsvp on Facebook for things like the Health Care For All rally, we have the potential to spark conversations about the need for change with friends who may not share our beliefs. But compare that with the effect on passers-by in the street, witnessing a unified body of people, chanting and holding signs in support of a cause. Which would have the greater affect on you?
Does information lead to action?
Evites, emails, blogs, networking sites…they’re all about the dissemination of information. But does that information always lead to action? We saw the best example of the online to real life connection in the Obama Campaign over the past couple of years. As Time magazine put it in a July ’07 article, the point of establishing an online base is so that later on this base can “be converted into door knockers and phone bankers.” Is it possible that we got so excited about the positive effects of online networking in the Obama campaign that we’ve forgotten about the follow-through?
My suggestion? Use the internet as an enhancement to already established methods of social activism (as your DDR pad is to your Nintendo 64). Because justice will not be won by clicking the “rsvp” box on a Facebook event invite. It will be achieved when people take to the streets, with big signs and loud voices, and demand it.