david eaves: harper underestimates fb activism at his peril

Harper thinks we don't care. On January 23, he's in for a big surprise. David Eaves, writing in the Globe and Mail.
Over at the National Post, Matt Gurney recently stated that "Facebook groups are just about the dumbest way to advocate a political cause." His comments echo those of a number of pundits and politicians who give online activism – and Facebook groups in particular – short shrift.

For a variety of reasons online activism is discounted as not being "real" politics. Well, Facebook isn't going to remake politics, but it does matter – something the explosive growth of the 150,000 person (and rising) group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament and the first anniversary of the anti-coalition Facebook campaign offers us a chance to reflect on. So here are three lessons on online activism for the Prime Minister, the news media and the rest of us.

1. Taking out the trash is no more

Back on Dec. 30, when Stephen Harper decided to shut down Parliament, John Ibbitson called it a record "take out the trash day." Journalists use this expression to describe government's nasty habit of burying stories by releasing them on Friday afternoons, ideally before a long weekend.

Such tactics worked because traditional media believed the public wouldn't read a story that by Monday would be considered "old" (old being three days ago). Social media sites like Facebook break this cycle by allowing people to self-identify as members of an interested audience (and electorate).

A 150,000-strong Facebook group means the prorogation story now has a built-in audience. Since a really big story on the Globe website can receive 100,000 pages views in a day, a 150,000 group (which hints at a still much larger audience) is a tempting target for investigative journalists and political commentators hoping to attract the attention of readers. Consequently, Facebook activism takes a story that five years ago might have been buried and gives it strong, powerful legs.

2. Lower barriers to entry are a strength, not a weakness

Easily the biggest fallacy around online politics is the belief that because something is easy, it doesn’t matter. Joining a Facebook group is easy; marching is hard. So pay attention to marchers and ignore Facebook groups, the reasoning goes.

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