Social Network Activism

Whenever I mention that I’ve been off Facebook since 2012 people remark that it sounds like I am talking about a drug. It is perhaps better for me to refer to this as the date when I deleted my Facebook account, but they mean fundamentally the same thing and part of my problem with my experience with Facebook was my own inability to tear myself away from that morass. Regardless, I have not had a Facebook account since July 2012, more than three years ago. This may sound like an addict repeating a mantra in hopes that someday it comes true, but I don’t miss Facebook and, most days, don’t even give it much thought. I have my Twitter, which keeps me up to date on the world at large, keeps me entertained, and hits all of the buttons in my brain that drew me to Facebook. I miss some people, but I would miss many of them if I had a Facebook account.

The purpose of Facebook when it started was to eliminate the barriers between people and make communication easier; I maintained in 2012 that it only did this superficially and while I stand by that statement, my problems with the site now are that it hits just the right balance of ubiquity, accessibility, and performance so as to encourage its use to organize events. For those people with Facebook accounts, I am sure this works wonderfully. For people without Facebook this frequently results in being left out of the loop, usually with a perfunctory, “oh, right, you’re not on Facebook,” by way of explanation. The prospect of a world of communication taking place on this space that I voluntarily excused myself from does not bother me, but it is socially alienating in the sense that perhaps having an account could result in invitations to physical events. But this is generally just a little frustrating.

The past few years have seen a rise in (and exponentially more complaints about “slacktivism,” or activism that requires no more energy than signing a petition or saying something online. I’m indifferent to these and tend to skip the events, but there is something to what might be termed “snactivism” or activism that takes place principally on social networks.

Recent events at the University of Missouri have seen a lot of the graduate students organizing, with one of the cornerstones of the frustration being an active social media campaign on Twitter using the hashtags “#GradsDo” “#GradRights” and “#GradInsurance.” The movement was sparked when the university pulled graduate student health insurance to comply with a 2013 IRS ruling based on HHS definitions, and told faculty and graduate students about the change with just thirteen hours notice before it expired. This was in the wake of decisions and SNAFUs that directly hinder graduate student research and place increased financial demands on graduate students who make next to nothing already. The response was loud and immediate, with there being a walkout and rally on campus today. The movement itself is important, but is not what I am interested in here. In addition to the Twitter and Youtube campaigns to express frustration, the movement has utilized Facebook to organize, plan, and disseminate information. I am not surprised that this happened since most people have an account and it is cheaper to use this resource than it is to send mass emails using the school lists, but I still maintain that the biggest piece of the scandal on the part of the University of Missouri was the utter lack of communication about any of the decisions, so there is some irony that a certain segment of people are left out of most communication regarding the activism, needing to go out of their way to find it and being prohibited from contributing the conversation.

This is not slacktivism, but snactivism has its own limitations because there are barriers to information available on Facebook to people without accounts. For their part, many of the Mizzou grad students involved in organization have been good about sharing information and events and there are usually Twitter links to developments. Nevertheless, there have been several times where I have had that same “are you going/what/right that message was on Facebook” exchange which is at the least off putting. And I cannot help but think that this setup is exactly how M. Zuckerberg designed it.

2 thoughts on “Social Network Activism

    1. Thanks. Things have both been continuing and beginning to slow down a little bit as we are getting waylaid by the semester. Fortunately there has been some good media coverage from the Chronicle and other higher ed sources.

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