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Is Facebook weeding out grassroots activism?


Facebook, advertising, social media, effective activismWill Facebook’s new advertising strategy strangle grassroots political activism?

Social media has been an awesome force that has changed the way we view the world and how we communicate with each other.

On the global arena, social media platforms have been instrumental in influencing, if not driving, major geopolitical events like the 2009 ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran.

At home, political activist organisations like 38 Degrees are able to run successful campaigns by gathering support, often via social media, to push for social and political change.

Social media is a defining feature of modern political protest, but Facebook – and Twitter – are fundamentally commercial platforms, and as such they need to make a profit.

So it should come as no surprise to read that Facebook will be altering the way it can be used as a promotional tool – in order to make more money.

However, this will be to the detriment of small businesses and grassroots political activists, NGOs, charities and advocacy groups.

Facebook is set to vastly reduce the ‘organic reach’ of promotional posts – the potential number of people who might see your posts in their newsfeed.

Sam Biddle, editor of Gawker’s technology website VallyWag believes that this could be pulled down to ‘around one or two per cent’, and said that: “The alternative is of course to pay for more attention. If you want an audience beyond a measly one or two per cent, you’ll have to pay money – perhaps a lot of money, if you’re a big business.”

How will this impact on grassroots political activism? The simple answer is, if you don’t have big budgets for Facebook advertisements you will be practically invisible.

As Biddle wrote, ‘Companies on Facebook will have to pay or be pointless.’

ValleyWag provides an insightful analysis of how Facebook’s new advertising strategy will impact non-profit organisations and activists.

And journalist B. Traven wrote: “[…] Facebook has also become a new kind of platform for political and social advocacy.

“We may scoff at overblown “saving the world” rhetoric when it comes from Silicon Valley execs, but in places like Pakistan (not to mention in Tahrir Square or the Maidan) the idea of social media as an open marketplace of social and political ideas is taken quite seriously.

“That all goes away if nobody can even see your posts.”

And there is how this will this impact on donations for online activist campaigns. Will supporters be willing to fund Facebook ad campaigns just to get the momentum going online? I doubt it.

Most reasonable people appreciate that Facebook is not a charity or public service, and the bottom line is they are in it for the money.

But as B. Traven said: “Facebook urgently needs to address the impact that its algorithm changes are having on nonprofits, NGOs, civil society, and political activists—especially those in developing countries, who are never going to be able to “pay to play” and for whom Facebook is one of the few really effective ways to get a message out to a wide audience without government control or censorship.”

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