Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Twitter and Facebook based activism gathers less motivated participants, compared to an offline, harder to participate version.

But how did the campaign get so many people to sign up? By not asking too much of them. That’s the only way you can get someone you don’t really know to do something on your behalf. You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry, because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek swab and—in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow is a good match for someone in need—spend a few hours at the hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.

It actually makes sense. If the requirement to participate is just to click the 'Like' button, then i think a lot more are willing to participate, compared to wearing a black shirt and march downtown under the heat at noon time. Yes, so this can mean a lot more (way more) participants. However, the quality of these participants and their motivations to do so, might be less compared to the ones who really made the decision to intentionally endure the heat to join the cause. That, if we really need a real revolution, ones that requires people to die (think Che Guevarra and Fidel Castro), it's questionable how effective Twitter and Facebook will be.

Ok, this can probably work in a situation where there's a larger mass, with weaker ties showing both weak support, boosting morale and motivation of the ones with stronger ties who are willing to show strong support. Often, this is already enough to fuel the revolution. You can imagine, that some will take up arms and go into the mountains to fight an unending rebellion, and then the supporters just stay on with their lives, but still supporting them anyway they can from their standpoint.

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