Malcolm Gladwell explains why revolutions won't be tweeted

in this excellent New Yorker piece.  The author of The Tipping Point acknowledges the virtues and drawbacks of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media as social organizing tools. He differentiates between what social media do well–proliferate and engage users in relatively trivial activity–from what they do not do well–namely organize, strategize, and elicit serious social courage from people. Gladwell’s piece provides a welcome balance to “it’s all good” social media champions like Clay Shirky.

from the New Yorker article

Yes, it’s great to stay in touch with hundreds of other human beings through Facebook, and it’s awesome to be able to share information and engage in spontaneous crowd-speak through Twitter. Plenty of revolutionary ideas can be spread via these “weak-tie” channels.

But revolutions are built on more than revolutionary ideas. By themselves, social media cannot activate people to risk their lives and fortunes for important causes. Plain old face-to-face social media, like church services,  sit-ins, and planning meetings were what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. employed to move people to sacrificial action. In a great line, Gladwell says King did not content himself with “tweets from a Birmingham jail,” because, as good as they are at what they do, Facebook and Twitter are not the right tools for moving people to the streets, where social changes are made. 

Gladwell concludes with a note of caution to the social media enthusiast. These tools “give us access to information,” but not the “strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger.” Trying to organize using only electronic social media is futile, since it [emphases mine],

…shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause.

One response to “Malcolm Gladwell explains why revolutions won't be tweeted”

  1. Thanks for sharing a very interesting article, Drew, with an emphasis on the power of strong tie-in connections that allow us to gain strength from our real-life (non-fb) peers and allies, those that share our passions and beliefs while bolstering our courage. But I think, and I bet you agree, the next “lunch counter” may be changing the outdated educational system (that much I did agree today with Guggenheim) in which we find ourselves shackled. Here I can see the power of a broader global network (PLN) to learn from and share with. I suspect we all feel safer hiding behind the tweets and the micro-blogs – we are doing our small part without getting dirty or damaged or even out of our seats. Social networks have their place in the strata of change but should be just one part. Interested to hear your thoughts on today's movie.


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