'Liking isn't helping': How Facebook is killing student activism

Status updates - when they're not baby pics or relationship updates - may "raise awareness", but is that even worth anything?

1.39AM. Can’t sleep. Scroll down Newsfeed. Album of holiday photos. All participants disgustingly attractive. Yet another school pal is now “In a relationship with…”. Friend’s profile picture. Unreasonable number of likes. Picture of the ugliest baby in the world. Buzzfeed link. Club promo. Refresh. Group shot of girls with disease (physical or psychological) which prevents them from removing their right hands from their hips. Wonder if there’s a charitable foundation for them. Instagram pic. Blurry. Picture of schoolfriend performing a tonsillectomy on a girl in a club. Status Update: "I am gay lol". Refresh. Cat.

As everyone who’s been on it for more than about six-and-a-half minutes knows, Facebook is almost unbearably dull. It’s little wonder then that younger teens are eschewing the site for Snapchat, the picture sharing app for would-be amnesiacs. However, Facebook use remains prolific amongst students because we’ve learnt to play the Facebook game. There are ways and means of maximising on your online presence and, by osmosis or experience, we’ve become masters of manipulation.  

The Facebook game works by slightly different rules for students because our audience is not people we’ve sort of fallen out of contact with and haven’t seen in years, or our family on the other side of the world (and oh my goodness hasn’t he got fat?), it’s the people we see every day in halls and the canteen and in lectures. The line between what happens online and in real life is much thinner because there is so much overlap between the two audiences.

Like everything that has ever happened in the history of mankind, much of what happens on Facebook happens because someone is trying to show off. Because when you fart out a Facebook post, what you essentially do is say “look how interesting and attractive I am (as demonstrated by my off-piste taste in music, quirky cat video, social conscience, work with impoverished children, article in The Independent…)” We expect some sort of real-life payout from our Facebook presence because we’re performing to people that we see every day. Might that funny cat video result in real life flirting in a real life bar?

Herein lies the danger of Facebook political activism. Our society has long depended on students to perform more than their fair share of its political outrage for it. We depend on social campaigning to find its loudest and most tenacious voices in our student unions. But writing a tetchy status update is a very different kind of political engagement to going on a march or even the old Amnesty approach of letter-writing. Because when you get angry on Facebook, nothing actually happens.

Liking, posting and commenting makes you feel like you’re doing something without actually making any difference whatsoever. The opiate of shouting something into the abyss, which is essentially what Facebook activism is, purges your outrage but prevents it actually turning into anything useful. Liking someone’s status complaining about the Bedroom Tax is not the same as actually doing something about it. If a Facebook status is the equivalent of someone ranting at a bar, then “liking” it is the same as shouting “yeaaahh!!!!!!” when they’re finished speaking. You get the high of getting it off your chest and “raising awareness”, but being aware of something is only useful if that awareness turns into more than pity.

Crisis Relief Singapore put paid to the idea that Facebook activism actually achieves anything in this sobering ad campaign. Unless all the online bile turns itself into actual action in the real world, like the funny cat videos turn into real life flirting, there’s no point. There are loads of good online campaigns, like the Everyday Sexism Project and No More Page 3 but they are effective because they move past saying “oh isn’t this terrible, I’m so angry” and onto actual campaigning and action. Facebook likes don’t magically turn into money, blankets, food or social change. Anger and outrage at injustice and suffering is good and right, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that a Facebook rant makes anyone feel better but you.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + + uncapped commission + benefits: SThree: Did you ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits + uncapped commission: SThree: Did you kn...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Web Developer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions