Does it make any difference? Absolutely!
UPDATE NOTE: Just one day after I posted this Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has 140,557 members! Up 13,000 in 24 hours - that's over 500 new members an hour! Congratulations and keep going!
I participated in an interesting discussion of the importance of Facebook protest groups yesterday on Power & Politics - CBC TV's News Network's show with host Evan Solomon and CBC blogger-in-chief Kady O'Malley, along with guest blogger Ann Douglas. [You can watch that segment here at about 1 hour and 47 minutes into the show.]
Here are a few important comparisons - currently Facebook has somewhere over 7 million members - this is not easy to find, by the way, as Facebook is a secretive business. I have been waiting for several days to get an interview with anyone from Facebook about protest groups.
That means that 70,000 people joining a Facebook group represent roughly 1% of all Canadian members - putting both NO BC HST and Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament with approaching 2% of everyone who uses Facebook.
How do these groups compare with others on Facebook?
To the best of my knowledge, NO BC HST is the largest group in British Columbia with 129,860 members - that is, the biggest BC-based issue group.
By comparison the Vancouver Canucks official Facebook page has 115,005 members currently, while the BC Lions have 10,155.
Nationally, while Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has 127,794 members other large Facebook groups include Canadians Against a Liberal/NDP Coalition Gov't - one of the biggest to date with 126,850 members - set up by Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor to oppose the possible coalition government in 2008.
Other big groups include Fair Copyright for Canada with 86,262 members.
But if you want to be humbled in the Facebook group field, know that Nickelback has 1,340,294 members on their fan page. However they are of course internationally famous and not a cause, at least not for most!
Nonetheless, the reason why a political protest group is important is that it is the most immediate, measurable and simple way for a large group of Canadians - up to 7 million - to express their views on issues of importance to them.
It should also be noted that Facebook severely restricts Administrators of Facebook group from communicating with their members - you cannot send a message to all members of any group with more than 5,000 members.
That means that while the Facebook group is a great expression of opinion, it is not an effective way to communicate back and forth.
Groups depend on the members to continue to visit the Facebook group page to get new information about events, activities and updates on the issue - not an easy thing to promote.
There are some ways around this - the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament group is forming smaller sub-groups in different cities to communicate about protest rallies planned for Saturday January 23 - like this one in Vancouver.
But perhaps most important of all is that the media are watching these Facebook groups and reporting on their formation and growth.
That means more and more people hear about the opposition on that issue, see that they have a chance to easily participate by signing up and as that happens it creates a feedback loop with media again.
Facebook protest groups are not the be all and end all but compared to the old days of the 20th century this is light years ahead.
In the 1980s and 1990s protests were limited to petitions that needed hundreds of canvassers over several months to get anywhere near the number of Canadians joining these Facebook protest groups set up by one or two people in an hour and gaining tens of thousands of supporters in just days!
Now that's important and effective!