THE BLOG

Is Facebook Taking The 'Active' Out Of Activist?

07/03/2013 23:20 GMT | Updated 07/05/2013 10:12 BST

With International Women's Day upon us, there's absolutely no reason for you not to get involved.

C'mon, it's time to LIKE a Facebook picture of a sad-looking woman that's got 14,500 SHARES already. Fiddle for a seconds retweeting 140 characters of wisdom from Oprah. Or even WATCH a viral video, then SHARE it.

You've literally got no excuse not to join in the movement. Except that, of course, there's no 'movement' involved of any kind.

These days, charities and campaigners are using social media to find the next generation of activists. But sadly Facebook and Twitter tend to encourage the most superficial of social contracts.

Charities look for approval, rather than lasting impact -- measuring the success of their 'engagement' campaigns with numbers of Facebook LIKES -- and the result is that their messages live and die in a virtual world, creating a vast amount of online noise, but affecting no one.

Last month, the global dance flashmob One Billion Rising, which involved more than 200 countries, sent a viral video tsunami across the internet so large that the benchmark for online activity is now stratospherically high.

Yet despite its galvanising force, and the participation of millions, the results of author Eve Ensler's groundbreaking day of activism are difficult to quantify.

After all, the Facebook generation will watch a video once, rather than set up a direct debit to receive one every month.

And winning such huge numbers via social media does not come without a price.

Social media strategists looking for a viral hit are forced to relinquish sophisticated campaign messages, in return for a mind-blowingly large audience reach -- quite tricky if you're trying to pitch a complicated problem like... say... violence against women.

Of course, if you want a sentiment to be shared throughout the world on Facebook, you'll also have to make the message heartwarming and uncontroversial (the political equivalent of an amusing cat video), before waiting for the internet trolls to come and 'join the conversation'.

The starkest example of the power of social media to convey and then destroy a charity's campaign message came this time last year, when Kony 2012 become the most watched viral video in history, before managing to virtually kill off its creator. All without anyone tackling the problem of Joseph Kony.

Of course social media and social change are also natural partners. While experts continue to argue about the impact of social media on The Arab Spring, the fact remains that tweets and facebook message raised expectation for revolutionary success.

Likewise, closer to home, feminist projects such as Everyday Sexism and The Women's Room, and No More Page 3 draw on the strength of public dissent to tackle tacit sexism and patriarchy in modern life. While twitter outrage can also force companies to pull misogynist products, such as those 'Keep Calm And Rape Me' T-shirts.

But as funding for charities is tightened and social media campaigning grows ever more competitive, there must soon be a backlash against the substitution of LIKE and SHARE, for COMMIT and DONATE.

Today, the Equals Coalition are aiming to encourage 'active' activity and is launching a UK-wide competition inviting 16 - 25 year olds to make 'debate starter' videos on March 8th. Young people will be asked to look at gender equality issues at home and across the world and make a short film designed to start a conversation about issues they care about. Videos will be judged on their creativity and ability to get people talking. The final five will then go to a public vote on Facebook and YouTube. The top prize on offer is a Canon 1100D camera.