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The right to choose where to direct our political energies

This Magazine Staff

What do you get if you cross the CBC with Facebook? A colossal waste of energy.
Keen to tap into the youthful energy of online social networking, the CBC set up an experiment—The Great Canadian Wish List. (Note: A Facebook account is required in order to view links on the Facebook website. If you haven’t yet succumbed to the online world’s newest addiction, you can read more about the Wish List here.)
The idea borrowed from the online consumerist killer app, the Amazon Wish List, but with a twist: make a wish for Canada’s future. As an incentive, the CBC offered to publicize the most popular wishes on a Canada Day broadcast. In a nod to the seeming organic nature of online community, the broadcaster pointed out that the outcome of the wish contest was solely user-driven and unmediated by the CBC.
Based on that standard, the CBC has judged the contest a huge success. But activists on the left are giving it a failing grade. Why? Because the number-one wish to date is “abolish abortion in Canada.” Close on the heels of that troublesome desire? “Restore the Traditional Definition of Marriage” and “For a spiritual revival in our nation.”

Hmm. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and the courts ruled the same for abortion rights back in 1988. Similarly, Canada is increasingly secular and decreasingly religious. Many people may hold wishes to the contrary, but they are not in the Canadian majority, despite what the Facebook wishlist may suggest. A counter-wish, that abortion remain legal, has been established on Facebook and it’s quickly gaining ground on the anti-choice wish.
Charges have been laid that the contest has been hijacked by right-wing special-interest groups. But if anything, the debacle just indicates the extent to which politics has become organized online just as it has in the real world. All the time, I receive links from friends to polls on news-media sites and other websites, asking that I add in my vote to help tip the balance one way or another. The notion that activity simply emerges organically and more democratically on the web is naive.
No matter what your specific beliefs, the emergence of the online world has been an enormous boon to organizing to change the world. It is easier to become informed, easier to make donations, easier to try and influence events and actions around the world.
It’s also easier to participate in political discussions—but just as easy to misdirect your energies. On some levels, adding your voice to the “Me too” chorus of people who are offended by the anti-choice wish is about as useful and debating with those who seek to squash abortion rights. Not very.
A wish contest on Facebook is not really representative of Canadian values. Our time would be better spent not only thinking about more useful ways to harness tools like Facebook more productively for social change—it would be more valuably spent actually doing things in the real world to promote better and more consistent access to abortion and other health services for women across the country who need it.

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