This post was written as part of a research blogging assignment for Stanford’s Networked Rhetorics class. For more about this assignment, click here.
We’ve all seen cause-oriented groups on Facebook – groups like “Clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, “End Poverty in America”, or even “9,999,999 fans and I will empty my bank account to help Haiti”. We may even belong to some of them. But what does it truly mean to join an activist Facebook group?
This is the question I’ve been asking myself while conducting research for my writing and rhetoric class (focused on social networking) here at Stanford. My research topic is internet “slacktivism”, or, lazy online forms of activism – anything from signing internet petitions to linking non-profits in Facebook statuses to playing a few rounds at freerice.com. There are a lot of different aspects of the topic I’m considering, but lately I’ve been spending my time thinking about what these slacktivist efforts do for identity. Is slacktivism’s primary goal to flaunt one’s social awareness, gain do-gooder street cred and win admiration from peers?
The source that really got me considering this was this one, which cites a fascinating study by Danish psychologist Anders Colding-Jørgensen. In his study, Jørgensen created a Facebook group insinuating that landmark Stork Fountain in Copenhagen would soon be torn down. He invited 125 friends to join, and let the fun begin – after 3 days in existence, the group was growing by 3 members/minute during daytime hours. In the end, nearly 28,000 people had joined, despite the fact that Stork Fountain was never in danger.
How should these results be interpreted? The article goes on to suggest that none of the group members really cared much about Stork Fountain (if they had, they would have done enough research to recognize the hoax). Instead, by joining the group, they were seeking more to portray a certain identity: “The kind of campaigns and groups [Facebook users] join reveals more about who they are than their dull ‘about me’ pages.”Jørgensen agrees, stating that Facebook groups act as “cultural objects” that compose “a version of me that I would like to present to the public.”
The study is fascinating, but disappointing – I’d like to believe there are some non-egotistical benefits to these types of Facebook communities. However, I’m glad I read it, as it’s raised some major research questions for me: Why do people really choose Facebook as a venue for activism? And how much is online slacktivism tied to egotism and identity-building? I’m hoping that by gaining insight into the motivations behind internet slacktivism, I’ll start to get a clearer picture of how useful and effective it truly is.
Class of 2012