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Monday, December 31, 2012

A Social Networking Experiment

Several weeks ago, I created a Petition on the White House, We the People petition site. The purpose of this petition, as it states is to promote and support the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution. Pretty straightforward. It is a legitimate petition; however, promoting the Equal Rights Amendment was not the only reason I had for creating the petition. I wanted to conduct an experiment, to see how effective social networking could be for the average, everyday user of such media.

Initially my thoughts on Social Networking were; everything you post will be shared around the world, things can go viral if you post it enough times and in enough places where people visit frequently, and people who are exposed to overwhelmingly popular causes and who have a vested interest in said cause will be more likely to join. All Assumptions, not quite as cut and dry as I first thought. To Date, my petition has been shared with all the heavy hitting social groups such as; PFLAG, Equality Now, GLAAD, HRC, Democratic Party on Facebook, as well as over a hundred other groups, pages, and popular causes with a vested interest. This has effectively exposed the petition to millions of people, yet 2 weeks after it was created only 48 people signed it.

While it is true, what you post on Social Networking sites such as
Google+, or Facebook can and does sometimes go global, the likelihood of an average user creating new material which goes viral is low. People seem to have developed a gloss-over effect, when it comes to content on social networking sites. Unless they are specifically looking for information or updates, people are less likely to pay attention and more likely to skim over content. This makes attractive attention to a particular post, problematic. So many garbage posts have been introduced through social media, the tendency of people to tune out information has grown at an increasing rate, leaving legitimate posts in the proverbial bin.

I really thought the people who have a vested interest in Equal Rights, and who claim to be activists would easily pick up on the petition and run with it, promoting, sharing, and engaging others to get involved. To me this seemed like the low hanging fruit. Not only was this assumption wrong, to my surprise very few people who claim to be activists working for Equal Rights, even bothered to sign the petition and almost no one shared it. I'm still a little shocked by this last bit, but in a way it kind of makes sense. If you look at various Equality groups, LGBT support groups and the like, and you look at their subscribers and members, you will probably find that many people who claim to be activists supporting said causes, are only labeling themselves such because they think it will enhance their social profile; however, they are not activists in the sense of the word one would expect. When you look at it from this angle, the failure of assumptions made about Social Networking become clearer.

Most people who use Social Networking sites, do so because they want to create a social profile they believe others will find appealing, regardless of whether or not it is entirely true. People who have never held a picket sign, joined a petition, or participated in an assembly, can become die hard activists for a variety of causes, without actually doing anything for the cause. People can be experts at anything or everything, because they watched MacGyver, or Chef's because they know how to boil water on the stove. While it is true, a lot of people use Social Networking to connect with friends and family, the ability to create a persona on the Internet has made hyperbole the new norm, and allowed people to create and share with the world who we wish we really were, instead of who we really are. I wonder if we will ever be able to go back to the realism that existed in everyday life, prior to the Internet.