Status Updates Are Ineffective As Political Action

Picture 1“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.”

So reads the latest viral trend in the debate about health care, as it spreads across the social networks, beginning on Facebook and subsequently infiltrating Twitter. The online battle cry paraphrases President Obama’s August 15th radio address, in which he provided an ample soundbite: “No one in America should go broke because they got sick.” Now, the message has been paraphrased and appropriated into the 2009 equivalent of those turn-of-the-century email chainletters sent from Hotmail and AOL addresses alike.

But there are a few problems with this sort of contagious, but vacuous internet posturing. First, while it is inspiring show of solidarity, it merely functions to intensify the online echo chamber, reverberating within social spheres of Facebook and Twitter friends that are likely to already share the same political beliefs on issues like, say, health care. So while the ever-growing chain of back-patting may feel encouraging to relatively small groups of classmates and acquaintances, it will probably convince next to no one.

In turn, this often sates one’s desire to influence change or make a difference, and has the detrimental effect of convincing people that they have done something important and can therefore be free of political guilt. It’s not at all unlike joining a Facebook group against the genocide in Darfur or tinting one’s Twitter avatar green in support of the Iranian uprising. The actual effect on the national debate is negligible, and by convincing some they’ve done their part, may actual result in a net loss. Maybe comedian Liam McEneaney put it best in a status update of his own:

“Instead of pasting a status update about my support for health care, I’m going to write a letter to my representatives in Congress. They might be able to do more about it than the people I went to grade school with.”

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