Of Facebook and the prorogation of our national playpen

For a variety of reasons Stephen Harper has decided to prorogue (basically to shut down) Canada’s Parliament until March. I am not going to dignify the politicians and their spin monkey mechanism by discussing the reasons cited for and against closing the House of Commons.

Full disclosure: I worked on Parliament Hill for Stephen Harper in various capacities for 4 years (largely as part of the “spin monkey mechanism” referred to above). In this time I also worked in the War Room on two federal elections for the Tory party.

I thus feel fully qualified to tell you that debate in Canada’s Parliament is a bad joke. The House has become a de facto playpen where grown men and women get to act like five year olds, hurl puerile remarks at one another and behave in a way no adult almost ever would or could.

So, as you may guess, I don’t give a rat’s ass re prorogation. If a collection of village idiots (known as Parliamentarians) are missing from a tedious outpost on the frozen Rideau River (known as Ottawa) so be it. Ignatieff, Harper, Layton, Duceppe and the rest of their minions can act out their bad drama in the press/the streets/the brothels of our nation/or its seediest taverns for all I care.

What is find most interesting about this nonsense is the now over 138 000 people strong Facebook anti-prorogue Facebook group that was started by graduate student Chris White. The group itself has generated a considerable amount of interest from the mainstream press. Some of what has already transpired with this Facebook group speaks to the power and limitations of this medium to galvanize and organize.

The most obvious point is that the Facebook group’s sheer numbers (now four times bigger than the PM’s fan page) and the short time that it has taken to get to this number (1 week) are newsworthy in and of themselves.  This shows that a veritable niche issue that many people don’t care about or think about that much (forget what EKOS polls say, prorogation is not a ballot box issue and will be forgotten soon enough) can be brought to fore via an overwhelming response in social channels – especially if mainstream press get wind of the activity in the social space.

The  other point to make is that once an online movement gains massive numbers and lacks infrastructure, it can damage itself. This is seemingly what is happening right now with the Facebook group as Matt Gurney points out in his National Post blog. You can be sure that the process of shooting yourself in the foot has begun once you get folks from the lunatic fringe posting pics of the PM and Governor General doing Hitler salutes and dressing in dictator fashions. Chris White, who I genuinely believe is just against apathy and really cares, is not to blame for the inevitable idiocy from the lowest common denominator. The beast has grown too big too fast.

If Facebook groups are a form of protest I am not sure they do much re getting elected officials to move. Maybe firms, but not governments. I can tell you from experience with the man and his machine that “Don’t Call me Steve” Harper ain’t changing directions due to some Facebook group – particularly one that has done some of the things this one has done.

The prorogation debacle is of no interest to me. What is neat are the lessons the Facebook group has for businesses: You can occasionally build certain things and have a bunch of people come. If, however, you wish those things to remain effective you had better have infrastructure in place to properly deal with them. If not your great idea can be hijacked by jackasses – en masse. Such is life in the social space though as this is why it is so fraught with peril for certain applications.

On a different but somewhat related note: if you wish to read something damn funny, by Justin Kownacki on alternatives to protest you should really go here.

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