Likes, Replies, and Event Invites: Facebook and the $15 Minimum Wage Movement

So far, my exploration into groups like 15 Now, Fight For 15, Fast Food Forward, and the multitude of others which compose the $15 Minimum Wage movement, has been focused on the content of tweets and the composition of users who tweet with popular movement hashtags. While Twitter is a network which rapidly facilitates the creation of weak ties which are more useful for spreading information, as studied by Granovetter in “The Strength of Weak Ties”, Facebook is also an important medium which can’t be ignored in the study of new networked social movements.

Many of the planning meetings, rallies, and protests which comprise the offline activity of the $15 Minimum Wage movement have a Facebook presence in the form of a Event, which can be either Public, Open-Invite, Guests and Friends, or Invite-Only.

In my experience, most movement Events are Public, maximizing the visibility which fuels the mobilization potential of the event. However, there are some movement Events which are likely invite-only, especially planning meetings and other actions which might be less inclusive than the horizontal norm. These Events include a Posts section, where the admins as well as those who join the event can post digital content.

Another important Facebook object which is used by the $15 Minimum Wage Movement, as well as hundreds of other movements are Pages, which can be Liked by Facebook users. As of right now, in terms of searchable Pages, there are twelve 15 Now Groups, fifteen Fight for 15 Groups, and a number of other related movement Pages. These Pages have multiple definitions, including Community, Organization, and Community Organization. While only the admins of the Pages can post content, any Facebook user can post a reply, regardless of whether or not they have Liked the page.

The Pages with the most likes as of 06/23/2014 are Fight For 15 – Lucha Por 15 WOCC, the major Fight For 15 group, with 13,593, followed closely by Fast Food Forward, the New York City-based group which actually started the entire movement, with 10,365. 15 Now is third, with only 4,694. The local groups, like 15 Now Missoula and Fight For 15 Florida for instance, all have under 1,000 likes. To put this in perspective, Occupy Wall St. has 571,920 likes.

It is debatable how important these likes are, as they take virtually no effort and are not as vital as actually contributing to the interactions on the Page. However, these numbers can gauge the popularity of the movements on the social network of Facebook.

Another Facebook object which will need to be explored is Groups, which are comprised of Facebook users who can post virtual content to the page. These have the potential to facilitate organization and mobilization processes in ways that are impossible through Twitter communications. This will need to be studied in-depth at a later time.

To gain further insight into how these virtual spaces contribute to movement mobilization and community building processes, a content analysis of the Posts and replies would be helpful. How do these interactions contribute to the events and movements that are being digitally represented? Furthermore, it is also useful to study the characteristics of those users who comprise the movement. Rather than focusing on their mediated identity on personal Facebook pages, a survey would provide insight into their subjective experience of the movement, which would be missing from studying solely virtual content.

I am in the process of creating an open-ended survey which will be shared with members of these Facebook groups, in the hopes that they will participate in this exploratory process. There are multiple aims to this open-ended survey:

  1. Produce a deeper understanding of the characteristics of $15 Minimum Wage movement participants. Who is Liking these Facebook Pages and joining Facebook Events? Who is contributing to the virtual content which comprise these Groups and Events? What are their political views? Do they frequently vote? How involved are they in movement activities?
  1. Explore the subjective experience of how participants first became aware of the movement. How exactly did they become involved and what do they perceive their role to be? This will inform the mobilization processes of networked social movements, and help determine if the virtual spaces of social media, blogs, independent new media, and other websites actually contribute to social movement involvement, as information is spread to diverse social networks through bridging weak ties.
  1. Determine if participants translate on-line involvement in the $15 Minimum Wage Movement into off-line action at movement events, which is necessary for forming the strong ties that are necessary for building a sense of community, thus strengthening the counter-power networks needed for transformative social change. Are these Facebook groups a vital part of the $15 Now Minimum Wage movement or just representative of the slacktivism which still spreads information related to the movement but is detrimental to participation in off-line actions.

An obvious issue will be that the survey is only representative of those who actually participate. There is certainly a possibility that there will be a representative imbalance, with subsets of the movement either under or overrepresented. My hope is that this survey will have high participation rates among Facebook users, so that the results mirror the actual characteristics of Facebook’s Users participating in these digital objects which compose the on-line presence of the movement.

Another concern with open-ended surveys is that participants can frame their answer to questions over time, as opposed to the spontaneity of face-to-face interviews. While contextual differences between these two methods certainly exist, these open-ended responses are still important for exploring the participants’ subjective understanding of the movement. Researching this aspect of social movements will provide insight on how new networked social movements can engage members to participate, taking direct action toward movement goals. This is the key to facilitating social change in our 21st century network society.

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