Throughout the semester, we have discussed the capabilities and reach of social media and what the Internet has to offer. From local campaigns to global social movements, we have learned that social media and the Internet can provide a reliable means of communication and rallying, and even have the potential of creating a completely digital society. The Arab Spring movement offers an example of how the Internet can provide a way of establishing and growing a social revolution, as we’ve learned, however this week’s authors provide an alternate view as to the effectiveness of social media in this realm. In his piece, “Does Egypt Need Twitter?”, Malcolm Gladwell offers insight into the history of revolutions and their use of social media, or lack thereof, and questions the reliance and trust that today’s society places on Internet communications. In “Social Media and the Activist Toolkit”, Youmans discusses the misuse and restraints that can come with social media reliance. He argues, that “social media can provide the tools for organized dissent yet can constrain collective action” (316). Architectural changes to the structure of social networking sites have, over time, changed the way in which different groups use social media, causing them to lose their effectiveness. Both authors convey that social media is a means for starting a revolution or informing the public, but the actual act of the revolution comes from far more than a Tweet or Facebook post.
Gladwell offers an interesting perspective in arguing against the efficacy of social media in revolutionary movements today. He states that “we now believe that the ‘how’ of a communicative act is of huge importance”, which was not the case in situations past (2). Gladwell argues that real social activism requires “deep roots and strong ties” and does not necessarily have to do with who used which new media tool (2). The action is what drives the change, not protests via Facebook, which Gladwell might categorize as Slacktivism. He argues that historically, movements have still been able to take down their governments or instill change without Facebook, or even so much as a phone.
Youmans offers similar insight, and discusses how some people label the Arab Spring a “Facebook revolution”, while others point more toward its core causes of unemployment and state repression. As Gladwell would agree, Youmans offers the third viewpoint of too much emphasis being placed on social media, causing people to “ignore the deeper historical roots of rebellion in the pre-Internet era” (316). However, Youmans also points to the changes in social media and who uses them, causing them to be less effective in the long run. Such changes in social media and the structures of their platforms have introduced or expanded constraints to activist users, thus risking the effectiveness of their campaigns (317). Through his study, he was able to portray how “prohibitions on anonymity and certain content types, and the use of community policing of offensive material and greater infiltration by government agents can lessen social media’s utility” (318).
Our generation has been brought up with and exposed to social media and the Internet as a norm. It is easy to understand the positive implications they can have on day-to-day life or even more large-scale causes. However, it is not as easy to see the negative, harmful, or unnecessary implications they can have. Would you agree the authors by saying that social media should not play as large a role as it does in today’s means of activism? Can social media and the Internet still be considered reliable means of communicating or do we place too much emphasis on their capabilities? Are their capabilities really as successful as we have been brought up to believe?