The problem with Facebook campaigning (or how to support your favourite causes)

The problem with Facebook campaigning (or how to support your favourite causes) January 14, 2015

This is not a post about the problems of campaigning on social media. I’ve mentioned before about how people sometimes click ‘Like’ and feel they’ve done their bit, and sit back doing no more. I sometimes feel social media campaigning can act as a brake on real action, because it can give you the sense of having contributed to a campaign without actually making a difference. But this is not about that.

This is about the fact that I often feel my most important posts do less well on Facebook than more trivial ones, and Facebook’s ‘Like’ button is part of the problem.

This is about how to support the campaigns that you think matter on Facebook.

There are lots of possible explanations for why a post can get fewer views or clicks on Facebook. Maybe the posts I think are important are just not as good as the more popular ones. Maybe the titles are less intriguing. The timing of a post can make a huge difference to how many people see it. But I still think there’s more to it than that.

Last week, I shared my post “Serial child abuser Mack Ford will not face charges” on Facebook. It got three likes and was seen by 209 people.

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Three days earlier, I shared “Why creationism matters“. It got 27 likes and was seen by 1,090 people.

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I was proud of “Why creationism matters”, but it is nothing on the Christian reform homes scandal. The tragedy of thousands of children being abused, many of them sexually, in ‘reform homes’ that would be better described as prison camps, has been going on for decades and no one cares. Yet this latest post was not an exception.

Posts about New Bethany and other Roloff-style homes always underperform on Facebook compared with my other posts. It’s not this one instance. It’s a trend I’ve noticed in almost three years of blogging. And it can be simply explained by this:

Good news posts outperform bad news posts

This is a real problem if you are campaigning to expose injustice. Some injustices are so attention-grabbing that they spread like wildfire on Facebook, especially if they are currently in the news. But most of the time, a cheery post will beat a gloomy one (and a kitten will beat everything).

Last year, I produced an exposé about how government funding was going to nurseries that taught sexism and creationism. It got 10 likes and 503 views on Facebook.

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Later, thanks to a campaign by the British Humanist Association following my research, the government introduced legislation designed to tackle this (it doesn’t seem to have worked, but that’s another story for later this year). So I produced a post titled “Win! Creation ‘science’ banned in UK state-funded nurseries“. It got 34 Likes and 1,134 views on Facebook. That was nice, but it didn’t matter by then. I didn’t need people to know about it after the problem had been solved. I needed people to know about it when we were campaigning against it.

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Facebook’s Like button is an obvious part of the problem

It’s not difficult to see why the earlier post got fewer likes. Posts trying to raise awareness about child molestation have the biggest challenge. You’d feel like a monster clicking ‘like’ on a post about child rape. But it’s actually an easy, positive step you can take to raise awareness.

In my example above, you’ve just learned that children are receiving government money to be taught that wives should submit to their husbands, children under 5 must conform to gender roles, and that God made the Earth in six days 6,000 years ago. There is not much to like. So you do not click ‘like’.

There is everything to like about the news that this will no longer be happening. You click ‘like’.

Unfortunately, Facebook’s algorithm in part decides how ‘good’ a post is based on the number of likes it gets. A post that is getting many likes is clearly good, so Facebook shows it to more people. This cycle perpetuates itself. People are more likely to read a post which already has a lot of likes. On Facebook, success breeds success.

An easy solution

Of course, clicking ‘like’ on Facebook, as I said at the start, does not in itself solve anything. But when small, grassroots campaigns are struggling for visibility, raising awareness is everything. People are reluctant to join campaigns that appear unlikely to succeed, even if they share the campaign’s aims. Campaigns with momentum, on the other hand, easily pick up steam.

So even if you don’t like a post, click the like button if you think it’s important. It means more people will see it. Leave a comment explaining why you’ve clicked like if it makes you feel better. Clicking share is even better. A successful social media campaign can’t change anything on its own. But a successful social media strategy can put a campaign in a position where it can change things.

TL;DR: Please click ‘like’ and share on Facebook posts about things that matter to you, even if you don’t actually like them.

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