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

Image from

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.



  1. Brooke D · February 21, 2010

    I don’t think that they accomplish anything at all. I’ve joined a few to see what would happen, and have noticed that many people do take part in them. However, I have a feeling that most of those people ignore the group after they “accept” an invitation for it. If these were real activists, they might try taking action instead of setting up a group on a social networking site that no one will ever look at again. Or they might provide facts and updates, which might help their cause a tiny bit.

    It isn’t as if the people they’re advocating against are going to take them seriously. “Look! I have a thousand or so clicks of a mouse that say that you shouldn’t be doing what your doing! And most of them are probably accidental!” doesn’t exactly shout “we’re going to stop this no matter what.”

    These groups are more or less for people who agree with a cause, but who wait for someone else to do something about it. They’re useless, pointless, and embarassing.

  2. Karen · February 21, 2010

    I agree with Brooke above, these groups tend to be a meeting point for people with the same hobbies or inner cause that don’t know they would do a lot more by acting themselves.

    I have also joined some of them, and I receive emails from 2 of them, but even with some of the cause sites people join because they are invited but never understand fully or believe in the cause they have joined.

    I am guilty of setting up a social networking site but it shares information, records data and is hoped a place people can go with out feeling intimidated to find information….. we shall see. However I am a hands on conservationist and in the end I believe that will do more effect than a “one million” group!

  3. Hans · February 24, 2010

    My answer to the i bet we can….insanity…!/group.php?gid=297609218450&ref=ts

    Its sick how many groups and causes dont even try to do anything…with hundreds of thousands of members….
    No matter what cause you can find that 80% of the groups and pages are dead…. its hard to get people active…

    Facebook is the best place to make a difference!

    One Person Can Make A Difference

    We just need more people who realy care and not just join to feel good….its realy about joining to feel good!

    Follow the whaledefenders on Twitter

    Hans Lak
    One Person Can Make A DIfference

  4. Betty · February 24, 2010

    I am very sorry to recognize that I do not think that fb has anything to do with a real result. I myself started a cause for the cheetahs and I realize that people register themselves but they never read the informations I supply, nor they give money. So in fact I’m inclined to think that people are very superficial, and only a few people do really WANT to DO something. Spreading news does not necessarily mean getting real actions.

  5. cristina · February 24, 2010

    David, I agree with your point of view. You have not missed anything. I feel these groups actually diminish the effectivness of a more active campaign. If the group or campaign only has few thousends of members instead of the million stated shows that the cause is not of widespread interest as declared. In the end it weakens it.
    Facebook is a tool to help create awarness but its users need to move beyond just singning up for a group. Unfotunately there is no real action, not even the request to sign a petition behind these groups.

  6. Buzz · February 24, 2010

    I must agree with the lukewarm assessments above; the presence of a group on FB, at best, may raise awareness of an issue by a tiny bit, but the hard fact is that many people are experiencing issue fatigue: Haiti, whales, the poor, the starving, climate change, health care, the economy, two wars…it is overwhelming. Once one clicks to join one of these groups, then what? The cynical part of me wonders if, for some people, clicking on a FB link gives them the satisfaction of thinking they’ve actually done something positive to solve the problem so they can then return to watching reality TV shows with a clear conscience.

  7. debbie n · February 24, 2010

    I also agree I had followed what Naomi Wolf had said but I feel like we preach to our own choir. One person has 2 action sites both oppoaite of each other and he and I are the only ones that view both sites only some view one but not that often it seems sad that people do not want to know truth

  8. Christine · February 24, 2010

    I have joined some of these groups, but I have always wondered if and how they were going to accomplish their goals….I do forward MANY causes though, basically to raise awareness.
    Joining a facebook group doesn’t really strike me as being an internet activist, unless you actually do something to help your cause: like making people aware so they can make more conscious choices; signing and forwarding petitions from organizations that can make a difference; and being active in your own immediate environment.
    I am a teacher and since my students know that I am very involved in online actions, that I also help street animals in my hometown, and often talk to people about different issues (and sadly enough there are so many), they always ask me about it and I try to make them more conscious and more aware of what is happening, and ,most importantly, what one as an individual can do. Most of my students are actually very interested, and also want to help or make more conscious choices.
    There is so much I could say but I fear I am going to drift.
    All in all, joining a facebook group is not really internet activism in my opinion, unless people really do something for their cause.

  9. Ananda Stone · February 24, 2010

    So far what I have experienced is a great awareness building, but not much in the way of action. At least when it comes to sending money. I have posted causes, that were looking for financial support. Facebookies were happy to join the cause, but missed the point when they didn’t include a donation.
    I still think it is a great way to reach out, and many of us are inandated with causes we would like to soldier, but just don’t have the time. Last night I was at a dinner party and talked in length about the plight of the dolphins in Fujita, Japan. I recommended they watch the movie.

  10. Andrew · February 24, 2010

    I agree 100%. While joining these groups is a good way to meet like-minded individuals, at the end of the day it’s taking action that will truly make a difference.

  11. Susan Dill · February 24, 2010

    I agree with Hans. Facebook is a good place to share causes. I also agree that a lot of people just join the cause and then do nothing but not everybody is like that.
    If just one person joins and becomes active then it is worth it. We can accomplish things one person at a time and if that one person shares with others then one more person becomes active and shares, that is how word spreads.

    I personally don’t join every cause that I am asked to join. If it something I agree in, I will join and do what I can for each cause.

  12. Diana Peters · February 24, 2010

    I firmly believe that bringing awareness of certain activities to light can also bring about change. If the public is not aware, how can they help?

    • Whysharksmatter · February 24, 2010

      I agree, Diana, but I don’t think that these “I bet we can find one million” groups contribute to awareness. Some groups do. Some causes do. I don’t think that these particular groups do.

  13. Kathy · February 24, 2010

    I agree with some of the folks here, most people join groups on FB for their ego, but a few really care, and do what they can, including donate to causes. I donate if I truly am pulled to, and join only groups I am interested in.

  14. Joanne Anand · February 24, 2010

    I think it’s wonderful that these groups exist because it shows others that people care and can remind people what terrible things are going on in the world that we shouldn’t be putting up with in this day and age. It also makes people feel a sense of unity over these issues from different corners of the world which is nice. I find posting articles, video’s and photo’s with an added caption is effective and I believe the internet is an extremely powerful tool and day to day when I see the victories achieved in animals welfare and know I was a part of those petitions, groups or awareness raising it makes me want to fight even harder. My facebook friends are made up of other animal lovers like myself and many others who are indifferent although I have actually seen my indifferent friends get very angry, upset and passionate over things I have posted around and seen that they then go on to share what I sent. By the end of the day I can only imagine how many people around the globe have had their awareness raised over an issue they ordinarily wouldn’t have even known about. I have even had indifferent friends tell me after reading my posts that they have decided to give up eating meat. This is proof of the tremendous power the internet has to educate people and help animals such as the whale, the seals, abused animals, as well as people learning the importance of adopting pets instead of going to pet shops or breeders etc. We are also now seeing harsher penalties for animal abusers world wide and gaining a general understanding of the high intelligence animals possess…. these are all the kinds of things that are moving forward globally at a much faster rate than if we never had the internet and these groups of people who band together to discuss and share information. These groups are wonderful. Power to them and lets hope they continue!

  15. Mel · February 24, 2010

    I believe people join these groups with good intensions at heart – they care, but dont know what to do, so joining a group on facebook helps them feel like they are doing something. Lets face it, most of us are apathetic about something. But if for every 100 or 1000 who click on the join button, 1 person goes further and investigates other avenues of action or support then that is probably a good thing. It isn’t the fastest way to create change but I’m sure every little bit helps.

    As far as joining groups to boost ones ego – there are plenty of people involved on the front line who have joined for similar reasons. We are, after all, human.

    Cheers and peace

  16. Joe · February 26, 2010

    Marketing people have long known that getting people to make some kind of action or commitment to something increases that likelihood that you will get a positive response next time you come along asking for something.

    For example (read the 2nd quote box):

    I bet joining a facebook group increases the likelihood that someone will contribute, and that’s why groups promote them.

  17. meaydlet · April 15, 2010

    Like most people, every time I log onto my facebook page, I have a new group invitation. It actually gets to be quite annoying. I usually don’t even read them, but simply hit ignore. I understand the intentions of some of these groups on facebook, seeing as most everyone I know (including my parents and grandparents) has a page, but there has to be a better way to get the word out. Facebook is “a place for friends,” not for important political and ethical matters. I don’t take facebook seriously, so if you send me a group invitation on there, I won’t take your cause very seriously either.

  18. dani · April 16, 2010

    I have to agree with ‘meaydlet’ I ignore all facebook invites, half of them are from people I met once and when they got home they fb friended me. Sadly, I believe that over half of the people that join do not really even care what the cause is, they are only trying to help with one thing; get the number count up. When these members are asked to donate, or do something to actually support the cause, they don’t do anything.
    As a society, we are becoming more connected to the computers/facebook and less connected to the actual world. I think that if there are important events, people should find out by spreading the word from person to person. If we moved off of facebook, I think the people these causes attracted would be more willing to help out.

  19. Southern Fried Scientist · January 25, 2011

    Seems like clicking that little ‘Like’ button may be more influential than you think:

    Individual participation in social change movements tends to be ‘stronger’ when the activities are ‘easily integrated into daily life’ (Mankoff, Matthews, Fussel & Johnson, 2007, pg. 4). Furthermore, an individual’s social networks influence his or her involvement in social movements. Research shows that networks serve three purposes, ‘structurally connecting prospective participants to an opportunity to participate, socializing them to a protest issue, and shaping their decision to become involved’ (Passy & Giugni, 2001, p. 123). In addition, people are more likely to be involved in a cause when they are recruited by close friends and other activists (Passy & Giugni). Being part of a network of family and friends who are already involved in the cause is also a predictor of personal involvement (Passy & Giugni) (p. 578).

Comments are closed.