Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Easier an Exercise in Online Activism, the More Worthless It Is

In advance of tomorrow's eDemocracy camp, and because I've been drinking tonight, here's my stating-the-obvious observation about online activism:
The ease of participating in a social or political activity online is inversely proportional to its effectiveness.

In other words, the easier an exercise in online activism, the more worthless it is. High ease = low effectiveness (thanks to Jamy for the correction).

Obviously, this is just a restatement of any number of old adages that say you get out of something what you put into it. But I still see far too many people online who delude themselves into thinking that they've done something worthwhile just because they clicked "OK" somewhere.

Examples:
  • Signing an online petition or pledge: Ease: Ultralow. Usefulness: Ultraworthless
  • Sending e-mail to an elected official: Ease: Low. Usefulness: Low (worthless if you're not actually a constituent.)
  • Joining a Facebook group: Ease: Low. Usefulness: Low (unless it's in support of a tangible result, like a rally, or would potentially get you killed by the Mafia or guerrillas, or would otherwise require, you know, actual time or effort).
  • Participating in political forums: Ease: Low. Usefulness: Almost universally worthless -- because of the polarized, self-selecting, self-segregating nature of most online political communities, at best, you're preaching to the converted; at worst, you're engaging in yet another worthless online flamewar, convincing no one and simply reinforcing each other's stereotyped views.
  • Political or advocacy blogging: Ease: Varies. Usefulness: Depends -- Are you creating anything original or simply rehashing other people's punditry?
  • Using online activities to organize and mobilize offline activities: Ease: Varies. Usefulness: Well now, this is where things get interesting.
For far too many people, online political and social activism is like prayer: A way to feel like you're helping, without actually doing anything.

The trick, of course, is trying to figure out how to leverage all this online stuff into things that actually matter.

4 comments:

Jamy said...

"...directly inversely proportional..." ?

Joelogon said...

You're right, of course. (Not to mention fast.) I'd been switching between a few different constructions of that equation and didn't update it properly. Thanks.

Jamy said...

Obnoxious, aren't I?

Tim said...

Thanks for coming today! Nice discussion around consensus building online.