Alec Weisman's

The Downsides to “Facebook Activism”

In Social Media on June 27, 2011 at 12:14 am

Alec Weisman

Many people have that friend who can be best described as the “Facebook activist.” This person can be defined as someone who posts articles, politically charged statements, and polarizing comments on their Facebook more frequently than an automatic machine gun.

These activists have their positive traits. They tend to be relatively well informed, passionate, and emotionally invested in the issues that they care about.

However these traits are often not tempered by restraint, leading to illogical and confused posting that alienates their friends. Some of the negative traits of being a “Facebook activist” include:

–       Facebook Posts (and blog articles) lack editors (unlike traditional journalism)

  • Expertise comes from experience. Poor grammar, bad spelling, logical fallacies, and factual inaccuracies harm the cause of the Facebook activist. Venting can be good to rally supporters to your cause, but if it is poorly phrased then it is likely to discredit the activist.

–       Constant Posting serves as an equivalent to noise

  • This occurs when articles are uploaded so rapidly that people restrict your access of appearing in their wall feed. People tend to tune out when they are exposed to perpetual stimuli or news. When this happens, the Facebook activist loses their ability to expand their movement.

–       Facebook Posts can both prompt and restrict debate and discussion

  • On many occasions, a particularly inflammatory post may cause the troubling  “flame war.” This subsequently causes a notification explosion to both the activist and their friends who become involved in the discussion. Normally debate is a good thing, however when people have no limits on what they can say, they become a maelstrom of passion and rage. This leads to the next problem…

–       Exacerbates Personal Problems

  • Many times people do not realize that what they post on Facebook is essentially public. The saying goes, “The only way three people can keep a secret is if two of them are dead.” Facebook has the ability to amplify gossip, bitter statements, and misunderstandings. When the passionate “Facebook activist” posts before fully thinking what the reaction to their comments may be, they are likely to find themselves spewing bitter words toward their friend or engaging in libel in the heat of the moment. This also prompts the Facebook activist to go on purges to restrict or remove people who disagree with them or who seek to provide them with constructive criticism. In addition, this can cause the next problem…

–       Facebook becomes a place to publically attack allies

  • If you are an activist you have few enough allies as it is. When “Facebook activists” go on rants attacking organizations and allies that fight alongside them they hurt their cause. Disagreements on an issue are no excuse to smear or slander allies. By doing so, the “Facebook activist” loses credibility and becomes the subject of scorn, derision, and laughter. Criticize in private, praise in public, and unless the disagreement is irreconcilable, agree to disagree peacefully.

Facebook becomes an Echo Chamber

  • This is the worst thing that can happen for the “Facebook activist.” Once they have purged anyone who disagrees with them then their activism becomes trapped. When people are not being challenged, their ideas become stagnant, and their egos cause them to become self-righteous. This leads to the next problem…

–       They Appear to be Closed-Minded

  • This occurs when “Facebook activists” find themselves lacking input from others and they completely discount opposing viewpoints. They become trapped in the bubble of the “victim mentality,” believing that their opponents are particularly menacing or evil. This closed-minded attitude has been a problem for centuries. Sun Tzu wrote “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” When Facebook activists do not recognize conflicting opinions, then they do an injustice to themselves.

All of these negative factors are not to say that “Facebook activism” is bad, only that it is a tool like everything else that we use on a daily basis. True social activism, manifested in the form of the Arab Spring, depends upon social media, including Facebook and twitter. For those who are not seeking to foment the overthrow of autocratic regimes and are simply striving to win the battle of ideas and politics, Facebook still has power. The “Facebook activist” can avoid the pitfalls of careless usage if they are alert to their flaws and are willing to put in the additional effort to avoid them.

Some tips:

  • Be both fun and professional.
  • Show that you have a life beyond politics.
  • Show loyalty to your friends and support your allies.
  • If your allies do something you disagree with, present a rational critique of their decision in a calm and respectful manner. Do not go on personal attacks or libel.
  • Keep your promises. If you make a promise to do something, follow through.
  • Use humor to your advantage. The more you troll the outrageous comments that some people make, the more reasonable and interesting you become. At the same time, try not to burn bridges.
  • Own the narrative. Be well informed and understand your opponent’s perspective. Recognize that it is not what you say but how you say it that can convince people and gain you the respect of friends, allies, and adversaries alike.
  1. Mr. Weisman we both know a few of these “activists” and they need to read this insightful post.

  2. Hah. I guess this post describes me to a t when I get bored during exam periods.

  3. I’ve seen a few people use facebook successfully for their activism, but in general I…..HATE….facebook….activism

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