It must be hard when you're the kid of a rock star. You want to get your parent's attention, but you can't hold a candle to an arena full of cheering fans waving lighters. You've got the emotional ties and some shared history on your side, but you lack the sheer numbers.
Until you start a Facebook group. Call it, say, "1,000,000 to join, my dad john mellencamp will quit smoking."
That's right - it was revealed last week that Mr. Mellencamp will not be moved by his son's personal plea, but a gigantic crowd of non-committal strangers will do the trick. We, like Johnny Cougar, are apparently intoxicated by the sheer volume of people online whom we can either mobilize or be a part of.
Why do we do it? "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who hate cancer!" is another Facebook group. Never have so many people been gathered together to do so little. I picture them, up-thrusting pitchforks and torches in hand. "Boo! Cancer!" they yell, shadows flickering over their angry faces. Then they all mill around, saying, "Well, here we are, hating cancer!"
"I mean, you say you hate cancer, but I really hate it."
"Hey, are those egg-salad sandwiches over there?"
It's called "slacktivism," and it runs rampant on social media. And for good reason. Who wants to be the wet blanket, too cynical to get behind a cause?
Our rationality is further vaporized by our guilt: The Facebook group "Feed a Child With a Click" - helmed by shadowy figures purporting to convert your mouse clicks into lives saved - exists twice over, with a combined membership of over 10 million (not including the non-English versions), even though its legitimacy is unclear.
Of course we want to believe that we're saving a life by clicking a button. I mean, if it works (and sometimes, hard as it is to believe, it actually does, as in the case of the charity FreeRice.com), how handy is that?
But there's more to it. As I'm writing this, hundreds of people on Twitter are using the hashtag #red in their tweets in commemoration of World AIDS Day. Effort expended: minimal. But donating money to an AIDS charity is equally effortless, and I'm willing to bet that the majority of #red tweeters didn't bother. Why not?
Because what drives slacktivism is mostly ego. It's a bit like wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt: It's an easy way to signal that you're right-on, engaged, you have a heart. Fine, fine. And to be fair, these gestures are not totally useless. They make our political views visible, enabling others to engage with us, or emboldening them to put forward their own opinions.
But what does it actually achieve for the people it's purporting to help? It's surprisingly easy to confuse the expression of a sentiment with action taken. Therein lies the danger of slacktivism. While it feels good, it basically replaces other, more hackneyed expressions of what sensitive souls we are, such as "I like kittens and walks on the beach." What it doesn't replace is volunteer hours or money in the pockets of real charities.
If it's your thing, then go for it, but at least be honest about it. There's a Facebook group you might enjoy: It's called "If 1,000,000 people join, absolutely nothing will happen." Oh well. I've heard the egg-salad sandwiches there are great.
Follow Lisan Jutras on Twitter @lisanjutras