I have previously posted here about the Facebook-assisted revolt against Egypt’s former President, Hosni Mubarak, and the effect cyberspace can have on the real world. It would be beneficial to expand upon this area focusing specifically on the digital activism aspect of this cyber-synergy although, as I have already discussed the effect of certain campaigns, evaluating the usefulness of social-media platforms for cause-related activism may be beneficial.
Facebook is a prime example of a digital platform which is ripe for digital activism to take place: a lot of people use it (currently around 600 million ), creating content is free and adverts are relatively and comparatively inexpensive, it’s simple to use and already has 600 million people familiar with how to work the varying aspects of the network.
Dan Schulz states that “Facebook is almost too attractive to pass up,” although notes that the platform “isn’t designed for activism” making it difficult to gain any real sense of seriousness pertaining to activist causes such as ‘Support the Monk’s Protest in Burma’ or ‘The Free Kareem Campaign in Egypt’ . Because Facebook is filled with “junk”, as Schulz puts it, such as pokes, gifts and games it seemingly corrupts any potential chance for there ever being any true seriousness about certain causes on Facebook.
Moreover, because there is almost certainly a degree of narcissism associated with Facebook profiles (as suggested by this study as well as this one) where users try and portray the most exciting and fun version of themselves in a bid to seek the affections or admiration of their peers, joining a group which is humorous rather than important to any beliefs they may have such as an activist page, could be more important to maintaining this image they are ‘creating’ (despite the fact that this humorous content has already been created for them and they are merely leaching off page).
Facebook, as one example it seems, can be both fruitful and hostile for digital activist campaigns to emerge. But, when they work well they can really work well.
HSBC put in place a plan to charge 9.9% interest on overdrafts for graduates in 2007 up to £1,500 which was opposed by the National Union of Students (NUS). The union set-up a protest group on Facebook which quickly gained “nearly 5,000 people” and caused the bank to listen to its customers; this resulted in HSBC put the plans to increase interest rates on hold .
But why do only some of these campaigns seemingly thrive on social media platforms? Facebook is a voyeuristic shopping-mall where users can, rather unhealthily, watch their friends and acquaintances embark on their own lives whilst occasionally updating them with their own thoughts or activities in a voiceless bid to remind the world they are still there . When one person ‘likes’ a page, their friends are notified of this action and are offered to like the same page at the click of a mouse. Similarly, if one person ‘likes’ a particular activist page (such as the aforementioned HSBC one), then their friends see that ‘like’, thus, a snowball effect can begin.
Digital activism could be considered easier for the supporters so does any form of true support become coloured neutral and ultimately lay void? It is this issue which I wish to raise in a concluding blog post relating to this weeks topic. The post, when it is finished, can be found here.
The average users 130 friends on Facebook meaning that, if one person ‘likes’ a particular activist page then 130 other people are exposed to the same message . This would mean that, on average and demonstrating in a very simplified manner that, within 5 clicks, 781 people are exposed to the campaign (including the original instigator of this snowball effect). This shows just how prevalent social media and the system of ‘likes’ especially can be at allowing digital activist pages to flourish on Facebook.
Other useful references