Saturday, January 09, 2010

Do Facebook protest groups like NO BC HST and Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament make any difference? Yes they do!

In the past seven months more than 250,000 Canadians joined two Facebook protest groups - No BC HST and Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament.

Does it make any difference? Absolutely!

I created NO BC HST on Facebook in July 2009 in response to the BC Liberal government of Premier Gordon Campbell suddenly announcing the province would get a surprise 7% Harmonized Sales Tax on all sorts of goods and service previously exempt from the provincial sales tax.

NO BC HST currently has 129,860 members - most of its growth came in the summer as people discovered what the HST would mean to them. It is a BC-only based group - there are a few other BC groups as well but very small, while Ontario has some anti-HST groups of its own.

And on December 31, 2009 Christopher White created the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament in response to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue - or suspend - Parliament until March, a move that effectively stops all scrutiny of the government through the work of Members of Parliament on committees and in the House of Commons.

Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament has 127,794 members - a remarkable growth rate that will soon make it bigger than NO BC HST - which I welcome as a supporter of the proroguing protest. That this group is adding more than 14,000 people a day on average so far is incredible.

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!



Eleanor Gregory said...

I was prepping for my stint on the Rabble Rousser panel and decided to listen to the Bloggerheads portion of CBC's Power and Politics on which you appear.

Number 1, I'll check out this segment regularly now.

Number 2, I think I'll drag myself back to Facebook and join "Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament".

Kim said...

I agree Bill completely. Facebook has its limitations. Interestingly, one of them is keeping up with comment threads. People are so active on this site, its hard to process all the information and discussion. I wish there was a way to archive it for historical purposes. It actually gives me goosebumps, I have the distinct feeling of watching history unfold. This could be the turning point where people actually broke from that state of torpor and took back democracy.

Grant G said...

Eleanor...If you want to learn about BC Ferries,click my name,or google up....Someone please send BC ferries a lifeline...or BC Ferries has Gordon Campbell handcuffed....or The Madman Chronicles...It is a little more informative than The Young BC Liberals..or Canwaste...or CKNW...In fact, you visit,you read,you get "the Straight Goods"


Anonymous said...

Bill said: "currently Facebook has somewhere over 7 million members - this is not easy to find, by the way, as Facebook is a secretive business."

Bill, Facebook has astronomically more members than that. It has more than 350 million members:

And Canada has considerably more than the 7 million members that you claim:

"Canadian Facebook User Statistics as of December 12, 2008 -

Canada has the most users outside of the United States, at more than 10.6 million."

Just a Face[book] up! ;)

Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks for the update - I should have said 7 million members "in Canada" of course - that was implied.

My source was reports connected to the privacy issue Facebook addressed late last year, several of which cited 7 million. You can also find online as many as 12 million estimated for Canada.

I also note your source is 1 year out of date, so perhaps it is as hard as I suggested to find the real number.

But thanks for the info - if others have sources on the real number please let me know here.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill, just did some more research and apparently Canadian Facebook users as at December 14, 2009 stands at - 14,087,280.

Grant G said...

Bill T....Why didn`t you print my first comment I made towards Eleanor Gregory....

She`s a big girl,she can take it,without my first comment that was omitted by YOU,my second above comment doesn`t make sense...

If Eleanor wants to play with the big boys, and that goes for all of Sean Holman`s "Rabblers" they better have their facts straight,which none of the m had....Their facts on David Hahn and BC Ferries were as bad as Christy Clark`s...Bill,I said nothing libelous or false, show some guts,print my comments!

No where does your site say I have to be polite,don`t protect and shield your media friends!!!!!!!!

Bill Tieleman said...

Grant - I don't have to post gratuitous insults or in appropropriate language - ever. Try making your point more sensibly or go elsewhere.

Crankypants said...

You are correct in stating that the MSM is reporting the number of people joining these protest groups on Facebook. Unfortunately, unless the dunderheads that are in power give creedence to the numbers, nothing will change. The politicians of today are so arrogant that they view the electorate as nothing more than a footnote. All they want is for us to send them our money so that they take their cut and pass the rest on to their friends.

It's all about gamesmanship, which party can one-up which party. Meanwhile more and more Canadians are making the food bank their grocery market of choice and depending on the generosity of others to survive.

Anonymous said...

Hope you Listened to Bill Boring and the whatever this morning between 10 and 11 as Norman dissed the facebook efforts of you and the Hst and the one on thr proroguing of parliament.

Anonymous said...

Go Facebook group go!

But I won't be signing up, because I don't want to lend any credence to those unscrupulous business peoples who would like to start us down the dangerous path of online voting.
That's something I will never trust.

Voting belongs to people - not their many avatars!

See ya at the polls! In October, maybe? May at the earliest.

Kim said...

Trolling, the new anonymous sport apparently.

Brendan said...

You sound like a lunatic Bill. At best you're just practicing to become a cheerleader.

"Do Facebook protest groups like NO BC HST and Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament make any difference? Yes they do!"

Let's see. Is HST still coming in July 1? Yep. Is Parliament still prorogued? Yep. Wow! That's some difference, especially with the HST.

It's akin to a self fulfilling prophecy. "I, the mighty Bill Tieleman have created the largest Facebook group in BC with the support of my followers. I have clearly demonstrated how powerful this force is by virtue of the following accomplishment. This Facebook group has brought together enough individuals to form the largest Facebook collective in BC, with power in numbers do..."

Well, nothing really because WE'RE NOT THE GOVERNMENT! For a political pundit, you sure have trouble figuring out the easy ones. I would seriously like to hear from your supporters just how long ago and what it was that you said or did to have earned so much respect.

Sure Facebook makes communication quicker, but not necessarily more effective, and I had to wonder about this quote from your blog:

....the media are watching these Facebook groups and reporting on their formation and growth."

What media? I honestly can't recall anywhere else that I have heard about how many people have signed up to these groups. Unless of course you count this blog as media. Technically, I guess so but it's the usual, "I said it, therefore it must be important" nonsense we've grown to love and expect.

Bill Tieleman said...

Brendan - you are free to insult me here if you wish - but you insult readers' intelligence far more with your facile comments.

First - try and advance Google News search - combine "prorogue" and "Facebook" and you will find 318 stories.

Second - you ask "is the HST still coming July 1? Yep."

Ask this question instead: how is the BC Liberal Party doing since introducing the HST in July? The answer is "far behind the NDP" with the Conservative Party rising.

Stephen Harper is dropping in the polls as more people figure out that proroguing Parliament is a self-serving affront to democracy.

Facebook groups give people a voice to express their anger and opposition - and that worked very well for Conservatives and others who were against the proposal for a Liberal-NDP coalition government in December 2008. [And yes, I opposed it too - check this blog!]

Facebook won't change the world - but it can influence it.

Anonymous said...

In answer to your question, I would temper your optimism with a more realistic 'not necessarily.'

Social media campaigns, such as FB petitions, have the potential to make a difference, but ONLY if that online protest translates into real political activism.

There is a false sense of activism that social media tend to carry. Many people sign up, then think their job is done, never to be heard from again, either online or at the ballot box.

I think many people these days have an almost religious reverence for new media, thinking it's power is much bigger than it actually is. The fact is, no FB campaign is worth a thing if the momentum does not carry over into real political action. So far, I see your FB camapign as having little impact on the HST. In fact the federal legislation passed in record time!

By enthusiastically declaring that "Yes they do!" - you may actually be contributing to this false sense of activism. How about something more like, "Yes, they can, but you need to follow through your online participation with real world political actions.

Look at what Ross Crockford did in Victoria - the unthinkable, getting people off their politically complacent asses, conducting a real political grass-roots campaign. I don't even think his group bothered with FB petitions, likely for good reason - a waste of time and worth little at the end of the day unless you mobilize people in a real (not virtual) way.

HST in Canada said...

Back to Facebook statistics - when you're creating a Facebook ad and you choose your regional targeting, Facebook provides a ballpark count on active Facebookers within that region. According to that, there are 14 million Canadian Facebook users and 1.8 million of those are British Columbian.

On the impact of social media front, I definitely think Facebook groups such as the No BC HST group are effective. There's no doubt this group in particular has increased the momentum some of the anti-hst programs have experienced. Anytime you group together thousands of people with similar views you have the ability to make a difference.

BTW Bill, if you feel it's appropriate, we would appreciate a link from that Facebook group's info page to the website we just launched,

Brendan said...

Thanks Bill for the invitation and the Google News search tip. It was up to 347 by the time I got to it. There's an awful lot of crap on the Internet so I don't tend to think of it as a credible news source unless backed up by a recognizable name. I read our local newspapers daily and try to stay on top of TV news shows but it's irregular so I may have missed it there.

But the papers? I added newspapers to the search and only got 46 hits. Top 5 were:

1. toronto - I think it's their version of one of the Skytrain throwaways we have. You write for the better one.

2. The Canadian Press - a somewhat respected name but not actually a newspaper, and the story is more of an ad for Ignatieff, all the things he said. Apparently he thought a Facebook page was important too, it was casually mentioned that it had about 100,000. Still looking for a newspaper that ran that snippet of info.

3. Invermere Valley Echo - you're not really expecting me to comment further are you?

4. Toronto Star - ah finally a sizeable newspaper, but where's the report of the facebook group size and it's implications? Oh, it's actually a story about a comment Elizabeth May made. I couldn't even say for sure what Facebook page or group the subject came from. Apparently it's not important.

5. National Post - now here's a paper I have occasionally read. Let's see what they have to say.

Commenting on an editorial by the Toronto Star:
"The breathless story suggests Canada is on the verge of some kind of violent 1917-style revolution — ... The evidence for all this: 20,000 people joined a Facebook page called “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament,” which urges Parliament to “Get back to work.”

"For all we know, that 20,000 figure is up to 50,000 now, thanks to the Star publicity. Or maybe even 100,000. Who knows? But for the sake of context, let’s look at some other causes that also got a six-digit response: Almost 300,000 people have joined a group encouraging rocker John Mellencamp to quit smoking. Another hundred thousand people have joined a group encouraging random people to move to Finland. A whopping half-million people have used the power of Facebook to declare that they enjoy the television program 90210."

"And then there’s our personal favourite: A group called “If 100,000 people join this group, Laura will name her son Megatron” recently met its goal. Congratulations, Laura, on the birth of your Transformer. We bet you didn’t know that he’d become the subject of — what does the Star call it? — oh yes, a “growing public uprising"

Well that didn't seem very supportive of your position. I gave up at that point, your suggestion not only hasn't changed my opinion of Facebook, it's actually reinforced it.

Bottom line, the group size may have been somewhere in the news I tend to catch but I don't recall seeing it. Maybe it just wasn't big enough to be front page/top story material. As always we have our separate versions of the truth.

Brendan said...

Apparently you weren't paying attention. Your suggestion:

"Ask this question instead: how is the BC Liberal Party doing since introducing the HST in July?"

The correct answer is - Very well. THEY'RE STILL THE GOVERNMENT!

Polls go up and down, our electorate is quite fickle and prone to long term memory loss. What's important now will be mostly forgotten by 2013. Will the Liberals be able to win another popularity contest then? Good God, we hope not but it's as probable as not to happen again.

Parliament itself (and our Legislature) are an affront to democracy so proroguing it isn't really doing any damage. Surprisingly, we all do quite well at expressing anger without Facebook and what a shock that you opposed something in your blog!

By the way I thought it was amusing that you opposed the Liberal-NDP coalition nationally but you support it provincially. Go ahead, deny it but your actions speak louder than words. Maybe I'm wrong, you'd rather see a Conservative-NDP coalition here, oh wait, we already have that now, it's just most people think they're voting Liberal.

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