FLAPJACKS: So everybody I know is putting up red equals signs on Facebook to show that they support gay marriage.
ME: Why red?
FLAPJACKS: It is the colour of love?
ME: It’s also the colour of anger, danger, stop signs, and retired assassins who are Bruce Willis. What was wrong with rainbows?
FLAPJACKS: I think maybe the guy who started it was all “well, rainbows are too political. But everybody likes red!”
ME: Or maybe he figured American conservatives who consider themselves red-staters would be tricked into supporting gay marriage this way.
FLAPJACKS: That is not the best plan I have ever heard.
ME: For a Facebook campaign it is basically genius-level thought. I mean, come on, it’s Facebook. Politics on Facebook is less advanced than online competitions involving Doritos.
FLAPJACKS: In fairness, Doritos are more important than civil rights to a surprising number of people.
ME: A surprising number of bad people.
FLAPJACKS: Your point being?
ME: I don’t know. Something about Doritos, probably.
FLAPJACKS: Anyway, I was reading that Facebook activism is bad because it makes people think that they are doing something to help a cause when they are actually, in fact, doing next to nothing.
ME: I, too, have heard that.
FLAPJACKS: But I have a theory, which is that that theory is completely wrong.
FLAPJACKS: Well, people are, for the most part, useless good-for-nothing assholes.
ME: Wow, this theory got dark in a hurry.
FLAPJACKS: Can you prove that I am wrong?
ME: Well, definitive proof -
FLAPJACKS: Right. So we accept that presumption. Moving on, because people are useless, the theory that people are being dissuaded from helping with a cause by internet activism is crap, because – and this is the important bit – they never would have done anything anyway. I posit that the number of people who really would have gone to protest marches or helped with community organizations or written letters to their elected officials or any of that, but instead did not because they were presented the option to express their support instead with an image macro on a social media website of some sort, is in fact very close to zero. Or, if you prefer, just zero. Straight-up zero.
ME: I don’t know that that is accurate. Given that people do tend to follow the path of least resistance, like rivers -
FLAPJACKS: Rivers have use.
ME: I reiterate: you’re awful dark today.
FLAPJACKS: I broke your wok.
ME: Oh. Well, in any case – wait, how do you break a wok?
FLAPJACKS: The handle came off.
ME: But it was bolted on.
FLAPJACKS: It came off!
ME: Anyway. Given that people tend to follow the path of least resistance, I think the argument that zero people are dissuaded from true activism because of slacktivism is probably erroneous. There must by definition be some people who would have done something more substantial, who were dissuaded because of the option to instead express themselves with a cause-oriented lolcat.
FLAPJACKS: But at what point do we say that the effect is de minimis?
ME: That’s a law term. I’m impressed.
FLAPJACKS: I was watching Boston Legal reruns last week. But anyway, I think activists are, by nature, shit-disturbers. And shit does not get disturbed on the internet. If they had had internet in the 1960s, Rosa Parks still would’ve sat down at the back of the bus.
ME: The front of the bus.
ME: Rosa Parks sat down at the front of the bus. Because black people had to go to the back of the bus. If Rosa Parks had been at the back of the bus it would not have been activism so much as “what normally happened.” Don’t you remember “Sister Rosa” by the Neville Brothers?
FLAPJACKS: My main takeaway from that song was that they really wanted to thank Sister Rosa.
ME: Look, I’m not going to get into the dynamics of bus-sitting, racism and how the two intersected in 1960s Alabama, because I am not Wikipedia and Wikipedia is a thing. And I agree that activists are shit-disturbers. But the point of the slacktivist theory is that social media activism provides the illusion of shit-disturbing, because your Uncle Morris who acts like it is fifty years ago gets offended when you post your “I CAN HAZ GAY MARRIAGE” lolcat on Tumblr, and you feel like you have disturbed shit when you have really done nothing.
FLAPJACKS: I get the illusion argument. I just don’t agree with it, because people recognize when something is something and nothing is nothing.
ME: Aha, and now we turn the cynicism angle back to my side, because people all too frequently don’t realize that and treat their Facebook actions like they are real life, because they know you can get fired for being stupid on Facebook so they assume that all actions on Facebook have consequences.
FLAPJACKS: Yes, but those people are stupid, whereas activists – well, activists can be stupid too, but there is a difference between idealistic stupid and disengaged stupid. Your argument doesn’t depend on how kids who thought KONY 2012 was a real thing that had meaning, because anybody who would have given a damn in any other circumstance was able to figure out that the campaign was being run by weird people who had a history of doing dick and all about the issue. I saw more of that on Facebook than actual Kony posts. Which is why I said de minimis. Well, that and I wanted to lawyer you back for once.
ME: And I was duly impressed.