20 October 2010

Pressing the Facebook 'Like' button should not lead to complacency

As of today, I’ve liked 285 Facebook groups enough to press their “Like” buttons. That’s a lot of stuff for a J to approve of.

Yes, one is the “I Hate Flo” fan club. But still, I like the fact that someone was bothered enough by the spokeshipster to start a Facebook group about it.

I, too, like to hate Flo. Now let’s be friends and bitch about it.

It’s so easy to press that button, but there’s a downside creeping up: It’s ending up in a giant pool of partisanship, where every comment posted may as well have been your own. My news feed is brimming with all things animal abuse, overpopulation, melting icecaps, high fructose corn syrup, Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher. Why go any place else?

You get sucked in and before you know it you’ve spent hours reading rants about dog fighting, the Palin effect, and procreation-crazed Duggar mombies. Sign a few petitions and you almost start to feel like an activist. But you’re not. You are, for the most part, virtually cocooned among hordes of the converted, all preaching to the choir in the church of left-leaning belief systems.

It’s great for the respite, but bad for staying grounded in reality. Probably no better than my father’s addiction to Fox.

There are exceptions, of course. Some important. Were it not for Facebook, I may never have known there were so many other women who skipped baby-making on purpose, and happily. I even have the opportunity to meet some of them in person (over chocolate, drinks, and the self-congratulatory smugness of not needing babysitters to do it). But that’s just for fun…

The things I care most about require more than status updates. Factory farming, animals languishing in antiquated labs, dogs being crammed into gas chambers because spay and neuter programs can’t keep up (and because breeding animals for profit is still legitimate in the eyes of the law).

To make a dent in these issues, money needs to be raised, laws need to be changed, and PR needs to be as effective, compelling, and far-reaching as Susan handing Simon his ass on a platter. (3,357,627 views and counting)

What’s more, it requires engaging with the very people you’re completely at odds with: teachers clinging to outdated animal labs, chefs serving foie gras, “animal-loving” families paying for circus tickets. But that’s how change happens. Relentless pressure from physicians and the public has helped eliminate live dog and pig labs from the majority of U.S. medical schools. Foie gras is banned in some cities (sadly, not in Richmond). As for circuses, there’s still a long way to go. Even Washington, DC, scoring high compassion points for animal activism, continues to welcome Ringling despite decades worth of animal cruelty findings.

I thought about how many Facebook connections have turned into action, and came up with a few: the Micheal Vick boo-fest at our courthouse, a few foie gras protests at a local French restaurant, Ringling Brothers leafleting, and a dog transport that runs every weekend, delivering dogs from high-kill shelters down South to rescue groups up North that can afford to foster them and find them homes. Each volunteer takes an hour-long leg, the entire trip spanning several states. This may well have been impossible to coordinate before computers, email, and social networking.

It’s better than nothing, but far from impressive, percentage-wise.

Whatever you care about—animals or old people or the ozone layer—you’ve probably connected yourself to endless updates about it. Maybe enough to completely overwhelm you. I’m sure I’ll never get over the photos of dogs with their faces torn off after Vick—and the dogfighting world at large—was exposed. But being paralyzed with emotion does nothing to help.

So maybe the solution is to scale back? Pick a few well-organized groups to support, perhaps even delete the rest, and ask specifically what you can do to help. Send a check, write a letter, submit an innovative idea…and then let it go. I think for a lot of us, it’s the only way to stay in the game long enough to make a difference.

On Christmas Eve 2009, a Georgia shelter,full to capacity, used Facebook to solicit donations so that no animals would have to be destroyed the following morning. Money poured in, enough to save every dog scheduled for euthanasia. Not one animal was killed that Christmas.

It’s just a tiny dent in a monumental universe of need, but it meant everything—literally life or death—to the animals being held there. Odds are, a few even made it into safe, loving homes—all thanks to Internet efficiency. Pretty progressive.

Originally posted on Ankle-Biting Terrier.

Kristine Kieswer | Kristine's Facebook
Kristine is the author of Ankle-Biting Terrier, the animal-centric, baby-free, 30-something blog. In her spare moments she studies dance, reads, travels, and fosters dogs.

Photo credit: Progressive