On Facebook Activism, and Armchair Activism. Or, Social Networks for Beginners.

As I’m sitting here by the fire with a glass of wine and the hipster-ass local radish salad with lemon juice and parsley that I just made, I’m reflecting on the current momentum in various activist circles, new and old, and the role of Facebook and social media as a whole in these dialogues. I’m reminded of pictures of Tahrir Square, of thousands and thousands of people brought onto the streets of Cairo through messages passed through social media, and to be honest, at the time I was pretty skeptical. Surely no one really uses Twitter that much and that seriously, right?

Of course, had I known to look at the numbers for and graphical representations of social networks, I would have been convinced, because that shit is crazy. (And if you do, you’ll realize that playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is pretty futile because you’ll ALWAYS get to Kevin Bacon.) And obviously those protests happened (shit, that overthrow happened) so there I was, convinced. Anyway.

I’ve noticed something recently in my own social media world which has prompted me to recall these observations oh-so-many years ago: we America, and particularly we-privileged-America, are (finally) exploiting our social networks, much like the Egyptians did and many more before us, to work in our benefit in this time of upheaval. Facebook has become the rallying point for protest and action planning and information and resource sharing between like-minded and semi-like-minded people. This. Is. Critical.

Remember during the election, when it was all: echo chamber, bad! Opposition news sources, good! Engage with the enemy, good! (though this one I question as ever having been a good idea) ? Well, those days are over. O. V. E. R. Everyone that’s going to be on our side is, for the most part, already there, or close to it. And the ones who aren’t are not going to be won over by your We Love Bernie memes (but really, are you done with that yet?) or your well-intentioned fact-based commentary on their racist drivel. As pointed out by a young woman speaking to the crowd at a hundreds-big meeting on interrupting white feminism I attended last night, the internet is a ridiculous and futile place to have these conversations. They lack tone. They lack nuance. They lack context. They lack literally every component of human communication other than written words. And written words are only a tiny part of human communication. (Trust me, I’m a linguist.)

The task of awakening your perhaps well-meaning but ill-informed friends and family members is a task you’ll have to figure out how to do on your own, in the real world, because I am certainly not an expert, being one of the lucky few with, for the most part, leftist friends and family. However, if you seek resources, follow the link I posted in the previous paragraph to get you started. I will say, though, that it is a long, slow process. It takes time, commitment, and, frankly, balls (and/or lady balls). So, we’re going to leave it alone for now.

Instead, I’ve been thinking about how to maximize the effectiveness of the resource-sharing space that Facebook (et al) has become/always was/used to be. I think there are a few simple things everyone can do (who wasn’t already) to be an effective Facebook/armchair activist, and these acts also drive the IRL activism that we see happening on a larger and broader scale, and will and must continue to happen and to grow.

  1. Stick with it. This is not easy, and it’s not always safe (well, in your armchair, hopefully you’ll be safe). Be prepared to be exhausted and angry and alienated and sad and frustrated and alone and all the other bummer adjectives. A lot. For a long time. I used to “care” and “do” a lot until I got so exhausted and angry and alienated and sad and frustrated and alone that I could not emotionally, mentally, or physically bring myself back to activism. Instead I went skiing for a bunch of years, which was also great. Identity politics will do this to you, so be prepared for a long, drawn out battle (or be prepared to continue your battle, if it’s already started).
  2. Fact. Check. Ve.Ri.Fy. I can not say this strongly enough. I saw, more times that I could count, re-posts of some narrative about Elizabeth Warren said X so call Y and Z and tell them something about health care. I only saw ONE post re-posting Elizabeth Warren’s (Official) post saying that this was not a true thing. This is so important. Do not waste your own or anyone else’s time or energy on something that is easily disproven.
  3. Don’t not share something because you figure everyone’s already seen it. Everybody’s Facebook feeds are drastically different because of who and what we choose to follow, what we click on, what we capital-L-like, whether or not we shopped at Nordstrom recently (yes, cookies are creepy AF), things we share, the data Facebook has on us, etc. I’m sure you can google and find out plenty of information on how Facebook’s News Feed algorithm works. Besides, and this is just common sense, if you’re seeing it on your Feed, it means A shared it with their network. But maybe C and D are in your network but not in A’s, so they rely on the information sharing link that is you, B, to get certain types or sources of information. It is pretty much impossible that you have the EXACT SAME network as someone else, so odds are that if B shares something from A, C and D may not have seen it yet. And maybe it’s just what they’re looking for! Luckily, Facebook makes this easy (boo, Instagram!) with the handy “Share” button.
  4. Don’t share personal stories or details with permission. That’s just not nice.
  5. If you come across an event or a story or a piece of information, and you think it’s great, or useful, or helpful, or might be interesting to EVEN ONE PERSON YOU KNOW, share it. The buck does not stop with you. Be a sieve of information, not a bucket. I was scrolling through the comments for a rally in support of refugees and immigrants today, as well as one protesting TD Bank for its stakeholding in DAPL, and so many times saw comments to the effect of “can’t go, wish you luck!”, or “out of town, what can I do?”, or “have another commitment, sorry!”. Especially since we’re all good armchair activists, and some people have jobs (weird), NO ONE is expecting you to go to every event or protest or call-a-thon or walk-out or sit-in that’s happening for a worthy cause. Half the time they’re all on the same day, anyway, so you’ll have to pick and choose. But what we can ALL do is share, share, share. Can’t go to an event? Share — because C, D, E, and F might be able to, and they might not have known about it otherwise!
  6. Cross-network-pollinate. An upcoming national Planned Parenthood support event/march/rally/protest in Portland in February has 4,000 interested and 1,100 goings. The aforementioned Rally Against Immigration Ban, which is was supposed to be TOMORROW, has 1,700 interesteds and 628 goings. Yes, I am going. Even accounting for short-notice logistics, this is a more than 2x discrepancy. We need to share events and knowledge across and between networks, so that literally as many people as possible can know about and go to as many events, etc. as possible.
  7. Read everything you’re sharing. If it’s an article, share it along with some critical commentary. Sometimes this isn’t possible or you have nothing to say, but showing that you’ve read it goes a long way I think in convincing someone else to read it, and then share it in turn. It’s like book club, but for news articles! This will also help you vet all the shit. I know, it kind of goes along with fact-checking, but even factual, reliable articles can be redundant or boring or just not worth sharing.
  8. Consider what it would take to do each action you’re sharing – but you don’t have to do it. I’m not a fan of the turn-your-clicks-into-acts, get-off-your-ass guilt-tripping activism. Yes, it’s important to get out of your comfort zone, but most critically-thoughtful humans already know this, know their limits, and will explore the edge when they’re ready. So I’m not doing this as a way to be like, “share the protest, then go protest! It’s the only way!” If you want to, that’s super awesome. If you don’t want to, and just want to click share, that is ALSO super awesome. Because we all rely on each others’ shares to be well-informed. If really 100% of your Facebook followers are violent, AK-47-owning white supremacists, maybe just e-mail important links to your closest secret liberal pen-pals. The key is to know your situation, and know yourself. For example, I hate hate hate the telephone, and for me, calling a Senator induces way more anxiety than going to a protest, even one that might turn “violent”. I’ll share information relating to issues to call about, but I’m more likely to go to a protest.
  9. Don’t just share or read things that are of immediate importance to you or your social circle. Try to branch out, think about the broader consequences of some of the actions and policies coming out of the new administration, and consider how other parts of your community or the country might be affected. This goes along with both Number 5 and Number 6: obviously more people in Portland are women than are refugees, but there is no reason (other than mathematically) why a Refugee-organized event should have less traction than a PP-organized event. This is like intersectionality-super-lite: just because it’s not something that feels super relevant to you doesn’t mean (a) it isn’t, or (b) you shouldn’t share it with your circles. To this end, make the effort to seek out alternative information and news sources. (See, ending the echo chamber!) Ask friends for resources. Use the Google machine. Always vet and fact check, but don’t be afraid to seek out perspectives and priorities that are different from yours. As they say, “first they came for the communists.

Well, folks, that all I have for now. So enjoy your armchairs and use this as your starting point, or not, I guess it doesn’t really matter since we’ll all be dead soon.

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