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"A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls."
September 27, 2010 4:46 AM   Subscribe

Small Change: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted. Earlier this summer, Golnaz Esfandiari examined the "Twitter Devolution" in Iran*. Anne Applebaum commented on the Twitter revolution that wasn't in Moldova last spring.

Gladwell argues that social media is "terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism."


*Previously
posted by availablelight (46 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The mere fact that Gladwell is a critic makes me think maybe there's more to this twitter shit than I thought.

But I'm with him on the absurd way in which the Green protests in Iran were turned into a story about social media. Twitter is pretty useless against a club or a torture chamber.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:03 AM on September 27, 2010


As discussed previously, a shallow pretense of helping Iran created a publicity coup for an American programmer without any real connections to Iran, while the real-life Internet activist Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was ignored for lack of a PR team and arrested by authorities.
posted by shii at 5:04 AM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Remember when the world wide web was going to give us world peace, renewable energy, and cure cancer? All on the first weekend? This is the same old hype and hubris, that's all.
posted by jonmc at 5:05 AM on September 27, 2010


But I'm with him on the absurd way in which the Green protests in Iran were turned into a story about social media.

Yeah, I remember everyone suddenly having a green avatar, and cynical old me thinking they were all a bunch of lazy dolts for thinking a quick Photoshop job on an avatar was going to change the world. Ali Khamenei saying "They've retweeted this stuff, you say? That's it fellas, it's finished, hand over the keys!" Twitter enabled a pack of people who knew next to nothing about Iran, who weren't aware an election was going on (who were probably in some cases under the impression that Iran didn't even have elections) to suddenly feel they were part of a global movement, and all it took was, I don't know, zero effort on their part.

I'm sure these things can be used for good, though. But it doesn't happen automatically just because you add a Twibbon.
posted by Jimbob at 5:24 AM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Revolution, actual real successful revolution is hard, unbelievably hard, to pull off. I misremember the number just right now but a few years back I did an in-depth project tracking down all the attempted State level/government overthrow revolutions in the past 500 years. Something on the order of 90% of them flat out fail. And, of course not all successful revolutions are a positive thing, Iran is the perfect example of that, they managed to exchange one bad system for another worse system.

I've serious reservations about weather Twitter and whatever other SocMed, will really make any actual difference, it's just a tool for people to wank on about.
posted by edgeways at 5:26 AM on September 27, 2010


Iran is the perfect example of that, they managed to exchange one bad system for another worse system.

it didn't happen in a vacuum
posted by jammy at 5:31 AM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Iran is the perfect example of that, they managed to exchange one bad system for another worse system.

And how long before we can say the same thing about the US revolution? Ba-da-chiiiiinggg!
posted by i_cola at 5:35 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm starting my revolution in Mefi...to the barracades, Mefites! To the barracades!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:03 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with anoth
posted by unigolyn at 6:19 AM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


slacktivism, 160 characters at a time
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 6:24 AM on September 27, 2010


To the bars and arcades!
posted by Free word order! at 6:39 AM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Figures people would label activism by a newer generation as "lazy" or create the term "slacktivism." Back in their day, Boomers had to gather in large groups to enjoy preaching to the choir before getting ignored by their elders who were in power. Nowadays we just congregate on internet forums and Twitter to get ignored by those in power.

Seriously, though. People are often afraid to voice controversial opinions, and getting out the message that they're not alone is important. Marching on Washington, etc. is important, of course, but it's just as important to just get out the message on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes. Gay rights? Not a liberal issue. Your conservative friends are gay, your brother in the Army has a gay friend that got discharged. Changing public opinion won't happen via letters to Congress or marches, it'll happen by constant communication and normalizing the "other."

The flip-side, of course is the do-nothing, feel-good things like a Green avatar in support of Iran. Yeah, it does nothing and makes you feel good, but so does a letter to your representative. The American voter can't do much to affect Iran in any sense.
posted by explosion at 6:46 AM on September 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Eh. The media is too obsessed with new media, I'm tired of the breathless excitement every time they discover chatroulette. The use of twitter campaigns and whatever is just to establish the cause in the twitter consciousness, not to overturn anything. Now most of those twitterers will know nothing about Iran except that RAR the govt. is bad. Just like none of my friends at school knew nothing about Tibet except that it should be freed from... something. And that Richard Gere used to be hot, and wasn't there a gerbil involved. Gosh they were good times.

Whenever they hear about Iran they'll be more likely to give money or sign something because twitter firmly decided something was a Good Thing. I just wish the twitterverse would do the same with something like domestic violence that might bring an attitude change that could make an actual difference. But there's no real harm in causes being trendy so whatever.
posted by shinybaum at 6:52 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isaac Davis: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? Ya know? I read it in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, ya know, get some bricks and baseball bats, and really explain things to 'em.

Party Guest: There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times, just devastating.

Isaac Davis: Whoa, whoa. A satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point of it.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:56 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Beneath the mobile phones, the tweets!
posted by oulipian at 7:18 AM on September 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Back in their day, Boomers had to gather in large groups to enjoy preaching to the choir before getting ignored by their elders who were in power.

Ignored? No. And that's why the denigration over this apathetic activism is so apt.

Twitter I can avoid. TV I can turn off.
It's a lot harder to ignore someone when they're right in your face.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:19 AM on September 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Beneath the mobile phones, the tweets!

Run, comrade, your old data plan is behind you!
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:21 AM on September 27, 2010


to the barracades, Mefites! To the barracades!

I think I'll man the barricudas, instead.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:25 AM on September 27, 2010


Remember when the world wide web was going to give us world peace, renewable energy, and cure cancer?

Durn. All I got was Al Gore...
posted by twidget at 7:31 AM on September 27, 2010



Twitter I can avoid. TV I can turn off.


I can ignore protests, too.
posted by shylady at 7:32 AM on September 27, 2010


Yeah, I think he's right on. I'm not sure it's that revelatory, but this statement seems correct:

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.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:49 AM on September 27, 2010


to the barracades, Mefites! To the barracades!

which ones?
posted by mrgrimm at 7:50 AM on September 27, 2010


"terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism."

Gladwell ignores the key problem with Twitter in this context - users confuse tweeting with action. In other words, there are some people who believe That the act of posting a message of support on Twitter constitutes positive action.

And the more we view the world through Twitter and facebook--the more that social networks become the filter through which we interact with reality--the more we will incorrectly believe that our actions on these networks constitutes a change in reality.

The function of revolution has always been to create a tension and not to relieve that tension in any way until the final moment of action. Thus, the revolutionary act is a release. But if people are venting on blogs or twitter, they are venting that tension away, the pressure isn't building.

The flip-side, of course is the do-nothing, feel-good things like a Green avatar in support of Iran. Yeah, it does nothing and makes you feel good, but so does a letter to your representative. The American voter can't do much to affect Iran in any sense.
posted by explosion at 9:46 AM on September 27


I don't agree with this, but I understand the sentiment. What citizens of liberal democracies have to do is two-fold. First, they have to demonstrate through their actions within their own system that democracy and liberalism as a general principle work to improve and advance their national identity. We need to elevate bright people who represent our american/british/french/german/whatever culturepositively, in order to suggest that a liberal democracy in Iran would allow them to act in the world as a positive, but uniquely iranian force. Democracy and liberalism have to be the way that the national identity is elevated. The problem is that globalism has turned every liberal democracy into an American shopping mall with idiosyncratic and irrelevant pasts. The fear among some on the fence in Iran is that democracy will obliterate Iranian culture and replace it with American culture. Our problem is that they might be right.

Second, we need to stop defending the progressive aspects of liberal democracy against reactionary religious fundamentalism, and instead insist on even more progress. Don't defend how far feminism has come, state unequivocally that it hasn't gone far enough. Make it clear that the progressive fight here is exactly the same as the one there, it's just harder to see. In this way, you make it clear that the aspects of liberalism that they perceive and are reluctant to adopt (exploitation of women and minorities, unfair distribution of wealth, etc) are the same ones we see as the vestiges of the pasts that we working against.

What moderates in Iran need to see is that the "decadent and corrupt" elements of liberal society are the result of a retrograde, reactionary ideology exactly like the one at in power in their country--religious fundamentalism.. E.g., it isn't liberalism that exploits women in the media, it's the patriarchal elements of society that liberalism has not yet overcome. That patriarchy is exactly the same as the one in power in Iran that puts women behind the veil.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:54 AM on September 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


remember when fax machines brought down the ussr?
posted by lslelel at 7:54 AM on September 27, 2010


Gladwell seems to set up this thing where you're either an old-style "strong tie" protester, or a new media "weak tie" protester, but I don't know how useful this really is. You don't put the genie back in the bottle on new media. To make a general statement: that's how people talk today. True, you could reach 98% of the black population from the church in the 60s, but how many strong connections like that are left as the world becomes increasingly digital? He also doesn't take into account how the current generation of kids aged 10 to 16 will use social media going into the future. For them it may be less of a novelty and more of a taken-as-given fact of life.

Social media is a tool that can interface with traditional style organizing. Instant communication and coordination isn't something to scoff at, and even if networks are less effective than hierarchies, you can still use network communication within a hierarchy. I think that it's foolish to say that Twitter is the end-all-be-all of organizing, but it's equally foolish to say that Twitter isn't a powerful tool that makes a well run organization even more effective at spreading their message.
posted by codacorolla at 8:03 AM on September 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Gladwell ignores the key problem with Twitter in this context - users confuse tweeting with action. In other words, there are some people who believe That the act of posting a message of support on Twitter constitutes positive action.


I think you're being too generous in your assumption that people want to invest in action. I agree more with Gladwell: Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.
posted by availablelight at 8:08 AM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I also thought Gladwell was going the same amount too far in the opposite direction. I took a look at my facebook friends list, and about 10% of them are "strong-tie" friends. People I would join the mujahideen for, so to speak. Another 40% or so are people I know personally and see regularly. Neighbors, etc. The rest are weak-tie acquaintances, friends of friends, and internet friends.

So it seems like the possibility is there for the tool to be used to coordinate either kind of action. I think he's right when he says that just because the network is mapped and the lines of communication are open desn't mean that effective action can just magically appear, though.
posted by rusty at 8:09 AM on September 27, 2010


Gladwell ignores the key problem with Twitter in this context - users confuse tweeting with action. In other words, there are some people who believe That the act of posting a message of support on Twitter constitutes positive action.

And the more we view the world through Twitter and facebook--the more that social networks become the filter through which we interact with reality--the more we will incorrectly believe that our actions on these networks constitutes a change in reality.

The function of revolution has always been to create a tension and not to relieve that tension in any way until the final moment of action. Thus, the revolutionary act is a release. But if people are venting on blogs or twitter, they are venting that tension away, the pressure isn't building


I would be interested to see a study on this. True, there are some people who retweet green revolution stuff and take that as the same as actually doing something substantive, but what does this person do minus Twitter? Anything? Has the cause lost anything because of Twitter, and would this person have actually taken useful action, or would they have just had some vague feeling of support (and not having any way to contribute within the threshold of the effort their willing to take) done absolutely nothing.

Also we're looking at that person just based on his/her digital action (organizing, donating, etc). What if their direct action isn't very much, but then they're at a party and they get into a conversation with someone they have a lot of influence over, convince them of the cause in Iran (which they learned about through social media), and that person in turn contributes useful energy to the cause? It's nearly impossible to measure that sort of causality, but even without direct evidence I would bet money that it exists.

I guess the way that I see it is that social media doesn't really do much. You might not get much direct action from Facebook or Twitter, but you have to compare that against what you would have gotten without it. I would bet that the amount of direct action is pretty much the same, but even the people who don't act directly now know about it, and the more people who know about an issue, who talk to their friends, who influence others even without acting themselves create a wavelike effect. You would have to rely on the traditional media to pick up a story to make people care about something, but with social media you can work outside the bounds of traditional media to create movements. And once you start getting more and more people who have the potential to contribute (even if the extent of it for most is a retweet and an avatar change) then I think that's a very useful thing.

It's a really interesting question. If anyone could point to any studies that have been done about this, then I'd be interested to see them.
posted by codacorolla at 8:26 AM on September 27, 2010


The State Department asked a website to delay scheduled maintenance. You can argue they shouldn't have. But it seems silly to suggest that's a non-interesting story.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:03 AM on September 27, 2010


I don't know. I used to enjoy Gladwell's insights but I am becoming increasingly skeptical of how he frames his arguments. For example I have problems with this paragraph (about 1/2 way down):
The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960.
One of the main pillars of his argument is that there is this unified group of "evangelists" and that this is their belief. Surely there are some, but isn't this a terrible over-simplification? I'm sure there are many so-called "evangelists" that don't try to connect social media of today with the social activism of the 50's and 60's.

In fact even using the term "evangelists" is loaded. We should be suspicious of all evangelists amirite? It's been a while since I read up on my logical fallacies but surely this is a weak sauce argument.
posted by jeremias at 9:12 AM on September 27, 2010


One of the main pillars of his argument is that there is this unified group of "evangelists" and that this is their belief. Surely there are some, but isn't this a terrible over-simplification? I'm sure there are many so-called "evangelists" that don't try to connect social media of today with the social activism of the 50's and 60's.

I'd be surprised if there are many people who would actively and vocally make that connection, but I think his larger point has some merit. That is people seem to be willing to equate on-line "virtual" actions as having more impact and being more real then they actually are. This is a trend that may become exacerbated at time goes on, depending on if people continue the trend of living their lives trough electronic devices. If so, then I would not be shocked to find someone in the not too distant future actually making the analogy between online activism and actual physical activism.

(Personally, I do tend to be a little wary of all evangelists. They tend to over promise and under-deliver)

If the recent Iranian unrest had somehow achieved it's goal I wonder how many people would then point to it and say it happened because of Twitter?
posted by edgeways at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2010


I really like Gladwell's "discoveries" and demystifications, but I'm starting to feel that he just forces conclusions like nobody's business. He starts with his thesis and crams the facts in to fit.

For all his handwaving about strong and weak-tie social systems - which has lots of validity, and is useful social theory - that means all of nothing with regard to 'revolutionary' activities. Any passing student of 1960s history will tell you that for every one of the relatively few students willing to sit in while people chucked garbage at them, or worse, were hundreds of others who talked the talk but did nothing, who wore the dressings of the counterculture but were mainly in it for the style cred, who waved out the window or gave a thumbs up but weren't part of the movement. There have always been people of action and people of inaction. The Civil Rights movement succeeded not because it was 'strong-tie' based, whatever he thinks that might mean, but because it was brilliantly organized and led by authoritative, compelling, ambitious, and detail-oriented people who spent countless hours in hot, smoky rooms strategizing and cooperating. Wherever there is that quality of leadership combined with a clarity of vision and a plan of action, a movement will follow. Most "campaigns" on social media don't deserve this comparison - most are halfhearted fundraising attempts or distractions provided in the name of boosting name recognition for a charity. Conflating that stuff with real, organized political action is shamefully disingenuous.

I notice in this entire critique he doesn't dare touch the Obama campaign with a ten-foot pole, because the use of social media in staging what was at many moments a fairly revolutionary campaign, defying and turning conventional political theory on its head, would poke this balloon with a sharp stick.
posted by Miko at 12:06 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe my perspective is skewed here, but I think I'm interpreting this article much differently than others.

Gladwell ignores the key problem with Twitter in this context - users confuse tweeting with action.

I thought that was the main point of the article. "Weak-tie" based activism--tweeting your support--isn't going to accomplish anything, i.e. "Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all?"

The Civil Rights movement succeeded not because it was 'strong-tie' based, whatever he thinks that might mean, but because it was brilliantly organized and led by authoritative, compelling, ambitious, and detail-oriented people who spent countless hours in hot, smoky rooms strategizing and cooperating.

Again, I thought that was the point. The "strong-tie" based system allowed for the countless hours of work.

Also, the main link is now borking for me. This one works.

I notice in this entire critique he doesn't dare touch the Obama campaign with a ten-foot pole, because the use of social media in staging what was at many moments a fairly revolutionary campaign

Hmm. I guess I would disagree that Obama's use of social media to get elected was revolutionary. I'd say he was merely more efficient at campaigning with social media than his opponent.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:33 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also think you have to look at the success rate of "traditional" demonstrations in the present day - sit-ins, picket lines, marches. They were effective in the early 1960s because the tactics fit the time and the cause - people strove to break through the forced placidity of social control by having highly visible, disruptive protests that brought cities or business activities to a halt.

Today, physical protests have lost their sting. The authorities have four decades of practice in managing protest situations and demonstrations with a variety of tactics designed to contain, minimize, or defuse the disruption of a protest. Physical protests have become associated with fringe elements, and so the mainstream public doesn't take them very seriously. They are dangerous, complicated to coordinate, difficult to pull off. Your message is in danger of being thrown off by even one nutbar in your midst (one of the things that most profoundly amazes me about the Civil Rights protests is how effectively they trained everyone to control the urge to explode in anger). These marchy kinds of protests, like Facebook campaigns, also don't really do anything unless there is a clear agenda with some kind of concrete outcome planned.

A lot of activists no longer believe that taking it to the streets is at all profitable for your cause. Working on change through individual persuasion, coordinated and direct political negotiation, direct action, and networking among distant fellow-travelers isn't as nutty as Gladwell makes it sound. If anything, I suspect it's more effective than an equal amount of time and energy spent marching around with a placard.
posted by Miko at 12:34 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Again, I thought that was the point. The "strong-tie" based system allowed for the countless hours of work.

...or, the countless hours of work produced the strong ties, in which case countless hours spent across media platforms will do the same. For instance, I co-chair a local event in support of our fishing community. This year, we met infrequently, and did almost all our coordination electronically through web documents and spreadsheets, and got the word out using free web applications. The event, last weekend, drew 5000 people, most of whom heard about it through social media. Meanwhile, the work on the event itself drew our group together and strengthened community partnerships in many ways, even though we didn't spend much time in the same room together. As, of course, did the event itself. It would be hard to argue that 'strong ties' don't result from social media activism just as they do in face-to-face coordination and activism. Hence my argument that leadership, ambition, and shared goals are the crucial elements of successful activism, regardless of whether you do it in person or not.

It's like crediting newspapers with facilitating the American Revolution. They certainly did assist in building wide popular support for revolt. Of course, people still had to get in rooms and meet and hash things out from time to time, and they had to have battles. But the bulk of the work on the goals and leadership of the Revolution was done on paper, at a distance, by people who lived hundreds of miles apart and didn't really know each other all that well. So was that somehow a 'weak tie' system? Should the newspapermen of the era be attacked because, for years, all they did was just sit home and comfortably write stuff and not take any action?

Hmm. I guess I would disagree that Obama's use of social media to get elected was revolutionary. I'd say he was merely more efficient at campaigning with social media than his opponent.

His fundraising methods were actually quite revolutionary in terms of political strategy. Only social media made it possible to amass a war chest based on $5 and $10 donations from marginally politically connected individuals, and only the Obama campaign was aware of and using this potential power until at least 2007. Traditional thinking in fundraising was about ROI on direct mail campaigns and fundraiser parties for big fish - little guy money was not important. In the world of political/social cause fundraising, his campaign represents a watershed moment. I would also say that outside of fundraising, I don't give all the credit to Obama or his campaign; a lot of the effect was due to the activists themselves on the ground, organizing and convincing and getting one another involved through social media.
posted by Miko at 12:45 PM on September 27, 2010


Activism White People Like?
posted by acb at 2:40 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Only social media made it possible to amass a war chest based on $5 and $10 donations from marginally politically connected individuals,

This is true.

and only the Obama campaign was aware of and using this potential power until at least 2007.

No, Howard Dean did this very successfully in 2004. In the end, Dean's cash advantage (and arguably his campaign team's inexperience) wasn't able to overcome the smear campaign organized against him by Kerry and Gephardt's teams. But anyone paying attention in 2004 already knew that this is how big league fundraising is going to be done now. Obama just did it next.
posted by rusty at 5:19 PM on September 27, 2010


This is an incredible article, it feels like Gladwell just detonated a nuclear bomb, especially when you look at the weak bullshit people are trying to pass off as a response. The move at the end to reframe Clay Shirky's own example of digital activism as a way for a wealthy Wall Street to call down the jackboot of power on a teenage girl from Queens was devastating. Maybe Shirky will respond? Let's hope this comes up in the upcoming Shirky vs. Morozov debate.

One thing I appreciate about this article is that Gladwell takes a step towards broadening the debate so it's not just about Twitter, Facebook, etc., but the idea of network forms of organization as the primary way of structuring society. The interesting question is no longer "Is Twitter an effective means of creating social change?" but "What kind of assumptions make it possible to believe that Twitter could be an effective means of creating social change." Why is the idea of the strength of weak ties so compelling? I think it's because the tragedies and problems of the 20th Century are perceived as problems of strong ties - political and religious ideologies, nationalism, racism, hierarchy, centralization, etc. Weak ties promises that we can have our cake and it eat it too: we can get rid of all those substantial commitments and still have our social change. That's why people who are saying "It's a false dichotomy! We need both strong and weak ties!" (and also "Weak ties lead to strong ties!") are missing the point. At least some of the enthusiasm for Twitter is predicated on a belief that it is either-or, and we can get rid of or maybe minimize strong ties because of the damage they do.

Gladwell's thesis is provocative because he opposes this brutally and uncompromisingly, not only advocating the necessity of strong ties and centralization, but even comparing the civil rights mode of organization to the Mujahideen and Red Brigades as models to emulate. These days, we constantly hear people say things like "The Democrats need to grow some balls!" This essay is an excellent litmus test for whether they mean it.
posted by AlsoMike at 6:38 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I really don't see anything that strong or interesting coming from Gladwell here, but maybe it's because I share some of his assumptions even as I disagree with his conclusions and think his application of Granovetter's research is misplaced here.

Maybe if you start out arguing from a strong belief that social networking (or the internet, or the telephone, or the cassette tape) is going to change the world in a way that other interpersonal interactions don't change the world,then Gladwell's would seem a shockingly heretical argument. But I have long agreed with the likes of Sharky that a new medium really doesn't do anything much differently than old media did. Human nature changes much slower than communications vehicles do. I see the whole strong vs. weak tie discussion by Gladwell as beside the point - both strong and weak tie relationships exist on and off the internet. I suppose that lines up with "why would anyone assume Twitter would change the way people act," so in that case, we agree - there has never been any great argument for the internet changing the ways people fundamentally act. To arrive at his conclusion, Gladwell has to brush under the rug the many things that weak ties are better at, and has to argue that weak ties exist more on social networks than in face-to-face life. That's patently false; we're actually selective about who we're on social networks with, while we don't have that luxury in daily life, when we live and work nearby to countless others who nevertheless recognize us and share conditions with us, and thus we have many more weak ties in our off-internet lives than in our online lives.

No, Howard Dean did this very successfully in 2004.

Yeah, that is true, you are correct, sir. I still think the point stnands - it has to be seen as a revolutionary development in campaign fundraising strategy, anyway.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on September 27, 2010


If I'm not mistaken, the entire point of this 'Twitter Revolution' was the fact that a domestic event involving fundamental human rights (you know, the iffy, ethnocentric kind put up by the UDHR) got publicized via a medium through which issues like these have never been publicized through.

Last I checked, the only real power human rights groups like the OHCHR of the UN really have in the world is by releasing studies and reports on human rights violations; public shaming, in a sense. Unless the implicit argument here is 'anything that's not worth doing in person is not worth doing' then yeah, let's just give up enforcing any possible ideal and close the whole commission on human rights because, hey, anything that's not worth doing in person is not worth doing.
posted by dubusadus at 7:54 PM on September 27, 2010


Miko: Yeah, definitely. Your point is completely true. It just irks me that Obama gets so much credit for this, when it was Dean's innovation if it was anyone's, but it was pretty much inevitable no matter what.
posted by rusty at 7:40 AM on September 28, 2010


I'll repeat my support for the article, if only because it's made me think about the subject several times over the past day.

A few thoughts. The Revolution will not be visible on (commercial) social networks because those social networks are bent on redefining (erasing) previous notions of privacy. Revolutions work on back channels, which don't exist on (most) social networks.

The notion of "Twitter" activism is not a new thing. Joining a Facebook group to Save Darfur is the 2010 equivalent of slapping a Free Tibet bumper sticker on your car in 1990.

The move at the end to reframe Clay Shirky's own example of digital activism as a way for a wealthy Wall Street to call down the jackboot of power on a teenage girl from Queens was devastating.

I know it's not really related, but it reminded me of this post.

I wonder what all the critics of Amanda Enayati think of Gladwell's premise.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:39 AM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The notion of "Twitter" activism is not a new thing. Joining a Facebook group to Save Darfur is the 2010 equivalent of slapping a Free Tibet bumper sticker on your car in 1990.

Exactly my point. And, having participated, I'd add that the anti-apartheid campus rallies of the 1980s were fairly "weak-tie" events in Gladwell's construction. Certainly one could become involved in opposing apartheid in a more dedicated, "strong-tie" manner by getting connected with campus and off-campus organizations who were more seriously engaged , but joining a rally basically meant you saw a poster and felt like agreeing and showed up. Even so, campus rallies drew attention to the issue, accelerated divestiture, promoted a legislative agenda, and ultimately played a role in changing US policy on apartheid. This is a good example of mobilizing "weak ties" when one's goal is to demonstrate broad acceptance of or support for an idea.
posted by Miko at 9:10 AM on September 28, 2010


Iran imprisons 'blogfather' for anti-state activities: Hossein Derakhshan, known as 'Hoder' online, given 19 years for charges of inciting anti-government feeling
posted by homunculus at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gladwell argues here against the idea that successful political activism is an emergent quality of social networks. Most smart folks already know that's not true, that, successful political activism requires, as Miko put it, "quality ... leadership combined with a clarity of vision and a plan of action." In that light, AlsoMike, I think the interesting question has always been "in what ways might Twitter be used to assist in creating social change."'

The article is so backlashy and uninspired. Bleh.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:59 PM on September 30, 2010


I also think Mr. Gladwell's article was uninspired and completely anachronistic. It was like sitting at the dinner table with your grandpa telling you he used to hike 40 miles uphill to school, both ways. True, sh*t was real during the Civil Rights movement, and for that matter, all the other student-led protests happening globally in the late 1960's, but I truly believe we can't apply what was useful then to the same ends that are needed today. Some incredibly bright guys are thinking very hard about these ideas but are also, or at least seem to be, self-aware enough to test the limits. I think their example about setting up an anonymous SMS system in Northern Mexico to report crimes without risking your safety or that of your family is pretty admirable (if only the State Department cared to do as much for Mexicans on this side of the border...). I also read an article last year about gay men in conservative middle eastern countries using BlueTooth technology to send each other photos of themselves so they could identify who was a safe "ally" in a public place.

Gladwell seems to think that unless a "revolution" is bloody and long and destructive to lots of innocent participants, it's not happening. What about these little revolutions that bring bits of freedom into the daily lives of repressed peoples? Any scholar of the civil rights movement also knows the real legal protection of these rights and the shift in social attitudes was something achieved by chipping away slowly, piece by piece and day by day, at the fortresses of oppression.

No one disregards a hammer or a drill because the don't provide you with shelter-- we understand they are tools that help you build your house. Social media, networking, cell phones -- these are tools too. Gladwell's sweeping statements about naive "evangelists" and his romantic nostalgia for the old days is an insult to the small but very intelligent community of activists learning to utilize these tools to their best ability.
posted by mexcellent at 7:23 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


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