Online petitions show we care or not?

This is a bit of a giggle. A likely lad – allegedly of course- working for an Australian union (themselves historically hotbeds of iniquity) set up a fake page on Facebook concerning Black Lives Matter. Then started asking for donations. So far, so likely lad. But it appears that the fake page is twice as popular as the real one:

A high-ranking Australian union official has been suspended amid reports he ran a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page that solicited donations from the movement’s supporters.

CNN reports that Ian MacKay – an official with the National Union of Workers – helped set up and run a Facebook page called Black Lives Matter as well as other domain names linked to black rights.

The page, which was removed by Facebook after CNN’s queries, had almost 700,000 followers – more than double the official Black Lives Matter page.

So far just a giggle about a likely lad.

Except this runs smack into that economists’ favourite distinction between expressed preferences and revealed. Or Bryan Caplan’s repeated insistence that votes are cheap – presumably Facebook likes are even cheaper.

The nub here being that it’s damned easy to get people to click on something. He’s rather proved that, hasn’t he? We can amass large totals, hundreds of thousands, quite simply. Politicians then react – Dear God, that’s hundreds of thousands of votes out there for the taking, people are serious about this! Except, of course, they’re not. The cheapness of those likes means that it’s not actually an interest in something, it’s well, a passing like. Takes a couple of seconds and that’s it.

This leads on to something important for that politics and the general societal doing of things. There’s an element of current thinking which says that a lot of Facebook likes, or a large petition, should be counted as important. As, say, a proper paper based petition would have been decades back. A reflection of a true irruption perhaps. But that cheapness, the liberality with which people spread such likes or online signatures around, means we shouldn’t be placing that importance on these things at all.

It’s thus even more important that we place greater weight upon revealed preferences, what do people actually do, instead of what they find extraordinarily cheap to say as a method of virtue signalling.

This is not, by the way, to pick out Black Lives Matter in this larger point. It is though to say that for many of the things which are thrown at us using the justification of this or that piece of social media, it’s simply not true that millions are concerned. Or not concerned very much at least. Looking at actual behaviour shows that most don’t give the proverbial flying. That’s the bit we should be considering as important, not some fleeting interaction with the Zuckerberg Factory.

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  1. Which does tend to indicate the whole importance of social media thing, Twatter storms etc is a load of bo££ocks. English speaking world’s what? Close to a billion people? So less than one in a thousand have a passing feeling Black Lives Matter.

  2. Delicious, someone organized a fraud that was (by one measure) twice as effective as the longstanding fraud of the real #BlackLivesMatter (that America is experiencing an epidemic of white cops shooting blacks for sport).

    Prior posters: Yes, reading too much into measurement by mouse-click is what enables a dozen college kids to simulate a groundswell (and, for instance, drive an advertiser boycott of a radio show).

    Zuckerberg has in the past week praised Facebook as an arbiter of speech, and Facebook is acting as one, chronically impeding access to conservative views, and recently blocking wisecracking black conservatives “Diamond & Silk” as a “danger to the community.”

  3. I think there’s an interesting thesis or two to be made out of just how the unprecedented growth in global population over the last 150 years or so has caught politicians and other leaders on the back foot. For instance, I attribute a lot of the pointless slaughter in World War I to the their failure to understand just how many warm bodies could be drawn from a modern population and sent into battle. The rise of China, with all the political trauma that’s causing, is more or less inevitable given that they have the population that they do. Numbers of refugees, of homeless, of ‘the poor’ keep getting bigger, and that triggers a panic because the people who react to these things were brought up to expect figures from a time when there were less people around. And I wonder if this is partly the case here. Any public figure from the 1970s who attracted five million responses to a comment would have been perceived as god-like. But now they’re just mediocre.

    I wonder if we need a ‘population index’ to apply to numbers of people, as we apply a price index to cash figures. Some easy way of linking them to global population would help to reduce their fear-inducing magnitude.