joining a facebook group as political action

I’ve joined numerous Facebook groups to protest against or campaign for causes, and I’ve noticed the mainstream media using the number of people who’ve joined such groups as evidence of popular pressure on the powers that be – whether it’s to preserve the local maternity ward, to fight silly copy-protection of books that are out of copyright, or to pressure the government into updating the customs limit from 1976.

People demonstration against the Gaza war, Oslo, january 2009. CC licence,

Obviously people find it easier to join a Facebook group to make a political point than to march the streets. Perhaps it’s actually more effective, too. Right now, it’s entirely possible that you get more press, and thus more national notice for a Facebook group with 2000 members than a demonstration of 500 people. And it’s a lot easier to get 2000 people to join a Facebook group than to get 500 people to show up at a particular time and place with banners.

Actually, the traditional kind of demonstrations – the first of May demonstration for all matters of importance to workers and social-democrats, and the eighth of March demonstration for all matters of importance to women – have been in stark decline for decades. The only physical demonstrations that have been successful in Norway in recent years are about very specific issues: the war in Iraq, for instance, or the attacks on Gaza, which is what the people in the photo above are protesting.

Perhaps politics no longer has many of those big issues that drew crowds in days of yore to fight for the womens’ vote, against segregation in the US, for the eight-hour-day and workers’ rights. Perhaps today’s politics, at least in Norway, largely exists as many small issues. Which can’t really be dealt with in a monolithical manner by marching the streets with banners.

Rather than poo-pooing the presumed laziness of all those Facebook users who join groups to fight for their causes, perhaps we should look at this as a perfectly valid and effective way of being politically active in today’s world.

I’d love to see a study of this. There are lots of research questions you could work with to understand Facebook politics more clearly. What are the relationships between Facebook campaigns and the mainstream media? Or, what is the history of how regular people protest or campaign for issues? The workers’ and womens’ movements of the late 19th and early 20th century may be the most familiar, but no doubt there are many others. What of earlier protests? Were they impossible because of a feudal society? Obviously more contemporary “smart mobs” protests and campaigns would be relevant. A case study of one or more actual campaigns would be fascinating – who started the group? Was it connected to other online or offline campaigns? To political organisations? How did the group grow? How was it picked up by the mainstream media? Did that feed back into the social media discussions? How did politicians and bureaucrats respond? Did they directly mention the campaign on Facebook or other social media?

If you know of work on this already or if you write something about, let me know!

19. March 2009 by Jill

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  1. Pingback: Will Your “Like” Save The Geese of Winchestertonfieldville, IA? | MI621: Social Media for Managers

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