871 words • 3~4 min read

Philosophy of activism: “I bet we can find one million” facebook groups

Image from montana.edu

It’s time for another “philosophy of activism” discussion, in which we debate a tactic that a particular group of activists is using in order to determine if the environmental movement should adopt it. This time, we turn to Facebook.

As a Facebook addict, I’ve noticed a new trend: groups that say “I bet we can find one million people who (insert your cause here)”. Examples include “I bet we can find one million people who support same sex marriage”, “I bet we can find one million people against abortion,” and “I bet we can find one million people who want Japan to stop killing whales”.  There are over 1,100 such groups (though some are not political in nature, such as “I bet we can find one million people who hate the Jonas Brothers”. Let’s discuss whether or not these groups help their respective causes.

Presumably, the ultimate goal of, for example,  the “I bet we can find one million people who want Japan to stop killing whales” group is for Japan to stop killing whales.

I really can’t see any way that joining a facebook group results in Japan ceasing their whaling operations.

While any discussion on the motivations of Japanese whalers would be wild speculation on my part, it’s a safe bet that they aren’t whaling because they don’t know that people in other countries don’t want them to. The “save the whales” campaign is one of the best funded and most famous of environmental causes- you can rest assured that just about every single whaler knows that Westerners don’t approve of what they are doing.

The same is true of these other causes- opponents of same-sex marriage rights are aware that people disagree with them, as are abortion rights activists. If you are persuaded by the mere fact that people disagree with you, you didn’t have a terribly well informed opinion.

I don’t think these groups can accomplish their goals even if there were one million people in them (for the record, the anti-whaling group has 27,913 members at the time of this posting, and only 5 of the 1,100 groups have more than 100,000 people in them). They certainly can’t accomplish their goals with less than 3% of the membership they are hoping for. I think it might actually weaken the cause to say “we have at least a million supporters” while only finding a few thousand.

Do you think that such groups help the goals of their respective causes? Is there anything redeeming about them that I can’t see?

Do you think that having only 30,000 members in a group whose stated goal is a million weakens the cause, or that it doesn’t have any impact at all?

For the record, I am the administrator of several facebook groups and “causes”. I do not believe for a second that merely having people join the groups and causes results in substantive change. I use the groups and causes as a platform for education, and I send out thinks like news articles  and petitions. Unlike whaling, most people aren’t aware of shark finning, so “spreading awareness” can actually help my particular cause.

I joined a few of these “I bet we can find one million” groups to see if I received informational e-mails or calls to action, and I haven’t so far. I’m going to call this particular tactic unsuccessful, but as always, I’m curious about what you think.