Facebook fury is not enough

Russell Wangersky
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It took mere days for the doctored pictures to start to appear: Premier Kathy Dunderdale's face photoshopped onto Tina Turner's body in a remade movie poster for "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" - newly entitled "Beyond Dunderdome" - with a hilarious photo-bomb of Jerome Kennedy in the background, sporting a blank look and a ridiculous feather hat.

After that, it was Crocodile Dunder-dee, and the floodgates opened.

Reaction to the last provincial budget was quick and sometimes hilarious, but at the same time, it makes you ask a simple question about social media: is it always a vehicle for change, or can it wind up being a coping tool to essentially let the disgruntled feel comfortable about actually not doing anything at all?

Facebook and other social media can clearly be powerful tools for change in the right circumstance - the Arab Spring is more than enough proof of that.

But they can only be powerful tools when they are actually tools - when they are a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves.

What I mean is that social media played a tremendous role as a telegraph system to enable protesters to communicate with each other when all other means of communication were cut off - they allowed large groups of like-minded people to co-ordinate their actions. But that's the crucial bit right there - their actions.

If Facebook griping is the only thing you're doing - if you blow off steam by adding to the latest Dunderdale meme and then walk away from your keyboard satiated - then Facebook isn't a tool for change at all.

It's just a mechanism for tamping down your feelings and continuing to live with the status quo - exactly the role of "bread and circuses" in the Roman Empire. You can almost hear the government's reaction - "Got it out of your system? Good. Now we'll just keep on with what we were doing anyway."

It's even more so because, often, our Facebook friends are little more than an echo-chamber of our own particular views. You can shout out your anger about a set of cuts and get supportive comments and "likes" back from a whole bunch of people who already agree with you. Of course they agree with you: their politics are one of the reasons they're your friends in the first place. Preach away, and wait for the choir to respond.

If you're a die-hard free market Conservative, you're unlikely to have a group of "friends" bleating about the Royal Bank of Canada outsourcing jobs to southeast Asia and laying off Canadian workers. More likely, your friends are more interested in the latest margin call. If a small-l liberal crops up among your Facebook buddies, chances are you'll hide them the first time they irritate you with comments about social inequality when you've just finished posting some great pictures of your luxury car purchase.

Likewise if you're spouting off about cuts to the environment and the provincial government's current love for business-over-everything-else. You're not changing minds or opening eyes if the message is only reaching a group that already agrees with you.

So don't confuse your Facebook rant with taking a stand or making a real move. Chances are, Premier Dunderdale and the people making the decisions aren't your friends and, frankly, aren't seeing a single word you write. They would see more words if you had just six or so written on a sign and you were standing in their parking space when they got to work.

The irony is that, when you yodel down the Facebook well, you may find that it actually works against your goals; nothing destroys a proto-activist quite so completely as seeing his or her activism essentially ignored.

And don't worry: if you think this is complete tripe and social media protest is the modern answer to any government slight, you can always write a status line saying what a tool I am.

You'll feel better and I won't see it. Win-win.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Roman Empire, Royal Bank of Canada, The Telegram

Geographic location: Asia

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Recent comments

  • Ted
    April 18, 2013 - 08:46

    Yeah Russ, no one pays attention to Facebook... http://www.thetelegram.com/News/Local/2013-04-17/article-3221640/Gerry-Rogers-thrown-out-of-House/1

  • Danny
    April 10, 2013 - 00:54

    I asked the lady I work with why she is checking her phone..she said "Oh just checking facebook" but 30 or 40 times a day? Strange bizzare culture ...We were @ dinner & I said " If you can get through dinner without checking Facebook dinner is on me.If you check you pay." She was up for it. Hee hee..I will be asking her to try it again.I love free dinner :)

  • Shane Mccourt
    April 09, 2013 - 23:08

    I disagree with mr. Wangersky's take on things with regard to Social media. First of all he seems to know a lot of details about what has appeared on Facebook. This kind of shoots down his arguement that NO ONE will see it except your close Friends. Who Cares if Dunderdale see's it or not, she gave up using Social media as soon as she found out she Couldn't control the flow of info. Check her Twitter & Facebook account, gone Dead a year ago. Holding Signs in a Parking lot is useless unless Cameras are Rolling to Show it to an Audience. Mr Wangersky should understand this more than anyone since this is how he makes his living. If used correctly you can reach an Audience with Facebook & Twitter that is impossible for any Local Newspaper or TV News program to reach. Perhaps mr Wangersky believes that Dunderdale listens to or reads most of what he has to say. I think this would be a false belief. Criticism of a medium that can reach millions by someone who works for a medium that reaches only thousands is just too hard to listen to without replying.

  • Pierre Neary
    April 09, 2013 - 16:30


  • Ken Collis
    April 09, 2013 - 09:39

    Russell, there is a little comfort in knowing that others share how you feel just the same. The few facebook friends I have, I'm very picky, aren't exactly like me, especally in the way I think. Politically I have friends from all parties. Still, you have a good point, and you probably aren't a tool, even if you don't want to be my friend.

  • George Murray
    April 09, 2013 - 09:26

    Great article. I wrote this one (below) back in 2003, before things like Facebook, Twitter, and the concept of the "meme". It was about "instant activism" back in the day of the forward button. Time to storm the castle. http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CF0QFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmaisonneuve.org%2Farticle%2F2003%2F03%2F1%2Fget-your-forward%2F&ei=PxVkUYzJDo7D4AOPhIHAAg&usg=AFQjCNE7G-Uoxb_L-iVcLlIvcYiHqCxNtQ&sig2=rEgp_arqbHxZdd_goNWdEA

    • Jake Allderdice
      April 10, 2013 - 21:12

      George Murray's piece is well worth reading--wish it were formatted to "click" on--here it is again: http://maisonneuve.org/article/2003/03/1/get-your-forward/

  • Herb Morrison
    April 09, 2013 - 08:15

    Well Said. Mr. Wangersky.

  • Ed Power
    April 09, 2013 - 07:47

    I "Like" this column.