Recently, there has been a lot of buzz on my Facebook news feed about my friends joining three Facebook groups: I bet we can find 1,000,000 People who Support Same Sex Marriage, 1 Million Strong For Same-Sex Marriage Throughout The Entire United States, and I Bet We Can Find 10 Million People Who Support Same-Sex Marriage.
To the credit of the first two groups, they actually do have over one million members, while the other group has a long way to go to 10 million.
There is also an epic race between a dung beetle and a poodle wearing a tinfoil hat to outfan Glenn Beck. The poodle has a strong lead, but also a long way to go to catch up with America’s favorite conspiracy theorist.
I am not a member of any of these groups nor fan of any of these pages. Upon looking, I found many of them sitting in my groups and pages and have removed myself from them. I am a strong supporter of marriage equality and think Glenn Beck is a righteous fool, and I don’t think any of my readers would doubt me on that. The thing is, I hate Facebook populism and won’t waste my time or reputation with it any longer.
Why? It accomplishes nothing.
I shouldn’t say it accomplishes nothing, but the net effect is actually negative.
Take all these marriage equality groups. Everyone’s joining, so you’re either getting an invitation or seeing it on your newsfeed. You want your friends to know you support the same causes, so you join too. Great! What a wonderful display of support for an important issue! I’m not really surprised that my friends support marriage equality (or else they might not be my friends), but it’s nice to see lots of other people do too! That’s just swell.
The poodle page is full of pictures of cute dogs and posts from people reminding us they’re smart enough to not watch FOX news. The dung beetle group has lots of dung beetle-cheerleaders (Go, dung beetle, go!). The marriage groups are just full of lots of platitudes. For pages with administrators, the pages themselves offer little content except recruitment plugs for the group. There is no movement, there is no planning, there is no rallying. The groups and pages exist solely to be numbers.
And this, I’m here to suggest, hurts our movements. Because, yes, it is nice to get lots of people to attach their names to their support, but this, in turn, gives them an out for nonparticipation!
What have you done to support marriage equality? Oh, I joined the Facebook group!
No really, what have you done? Huh? I didn’t realize I had to do anything!
Where is the education and advocacy? Where are the rallies? Where are the boycotts? Where is the civil disobedience? If we’ve got ALL THESE PEOPLE willing to support or oppose certain things, then shouldn’t that all be put to good use?
But no, that’s never what happens. People join a group then go about their lives, oblivious to the change they’re not helping make happen. The group’s potential for making a difference is lost in the group’s concern for its own self-importance. It becomes more about the group than the issue the group addresses.
Without this impetus for real action, people are left with the satisfying notion that they’ve already acted. In fact, it creates the illusion of different levels of activism, so people can feel like “Oh, I’m not up for that kind of activism, but at least I’m doing something.” Well, no, you’re not. Worse yet, this leads to a kind of support fatigue, where people actually grow tired of being asked to help even when they really haven’t done any helping! So when a real group ready to make a change comes along, like Queer Rising for example, people who might have normally considered stepping up actually step back because they feel like so much has been asked of them already.
Activism takes a lot of energy. It’s not just a choice; it’s a commitment. Even those who believe strongly in an issue must feel energized and compelled that they can make a difference in order to actually try. If you feel like lots of different folks are pulling you in different directions, you might not be inclined to move at all.
One other consequence of such passive populism is the illusion of success. This was something used a lot in the Prop 8 trial. If it looks like lots of people support marriage equality, then it’s almost like marriage inequality isn’t an issue… except that it is. This rift between reality and sentiment does little to fuel our movement toward real equality.
So to all my friends and fellow facebookers out there joining these groups: thanks for your support. I hope that you can do better than our President’s “fierce advocacy” and put real actions behind your facebook affiliations.