Is Social Media Really All That?

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?

Posted in Winter 2012 | 5 Comments

Inevitable Shift Towards Complete Digitization

As our society transitions into the digital era, both consumers and business entities have continued to implement the emerging technologies into their lives.  Morozov explains this in The Wicked Fix, “as the Internet makes technological fixes cheaper, the temptation to apply them even more aggressively and indiscriminately also grows.”  This reveals the hard truth for many individuals who reject these technologies.  The efficiency and cheap cost associated with online services has basically given people no other choice.  If they do not adapt to changing technological advancements, the individual or business entity is at risk of wasting precious time or falling behind the competition.

Alicia Cohn explains the ease of cost associated with this technology in her article on the website The Hill.  A perfect example, America’s State department shift digital resources to social media, Cohn states “the new paradigm, particularly for reaching youth, is you have to go where people already are on the Web. People don’t visit you, you have to go to them.”  This reveals the truth behind the Internet.  The Internet has countless numbers of websites in all different languages across the globe.  With half the world under the age of 30 and 70% of the Web in foreign languages, social media is the prime vehicle to reach youthful future world leaders.  The low cost is extremely convenient for business entities as they can freely try strategies on the Web with little consequences if the campaigns do not pan out.  On the other hand, a marketing executive who messes up a multi-million dollar Super Bowl ad campaign would have a lot of resulting stress and pressure.

The question we have to ask is how will governments step in as business entities sharpen their social media marketing tactics?  What new approaches do you think companies will take in order to reach their targeted demographics?  Would you focus on Facebook & Twitter or take a chance on a new social medium (Vine, Snapchat, or Instagram)?

Posted in Winter 2012 | 5 Comments

Technology isn’t always the Answer

As the semester has come to a close, we have read several pieces by Morozov, arguing against usage of the Internet in many ways. For example, he has repeatedly claimed that the Internet promotes a lazy generation of slacktivists and that the Internet has become an integral part of our lives (for both the good and the bad). Lastly, Morozov argues that the Internet cannot solve large-scale “wicked” social problems in ways that visionaries and politicians alike suggest. Instead, he suggests that the Internet can play a significant role in “fixing” social ills, however, it must be done through piece meal strategies, which are often smaller, focused and more successful than utopian plans.

Despite his acknowledgement that in order to facilitate social problems abroad one must used a more focused method, the government has taken a different approach… which may not necessarily be in the right direction. Policymakers such as the former Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, believe that the Internet could help promote freedom and democracy particularly in authoritarian societies. Ethan Zuckerman, pushes this idea forward by suggesting that providing access to the internet can help change people’s opinions of their government and thus ignite a revolution. He also argues that citizens would be able to organize and communicate better via social networking sites.  While I agree that the Internet is important for modernization, I do not think it is necessary nor the only tool needed to spark a revolution. For example, Gladwell (2011) argues, “People protested or brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along” (p.2). What matters more than a tweet or a text message, is that people truly care about a cause enough to participate and fight for what they believe in.

Morozov may claim to be a “cyber-realist,” however; it seems that above all that he is a cyber- cynic. And he is making me one too. In a world more dependent on technology than ever, I cannot help but begin to see the different natures of the Internet. Morozov also suggests that people rarely have true control over the information that is posted to the Internet; photos, messages, posts all get lost in what he refers to as an “information black hole”(p.312). But really, where does all of our information go?

Does Internet access provide the ultimate tool for revolution?  Moreover, do you think that Internet Freedom should be a United States policy? Or have Morozov’s words made an impact on you, making you a “cyber cynic” and more aware of the “scarier” side of the Internet, such as the “information black holes” or the public-nature of social networking? 

Posted in Winter 2012 | 3 Comments

The Pessimism Behind Social Media Use

The potentiality of the Internet has been of question all semester. What can the Internet achieve and how can it achieve it are of much debate. The Arab Spring provides an example of the ways in which the Internet can be of service in mobilizing revolutionary efforts. However, Morozov and Gladwell are hesitant to gloat of the successes of the Internet. Their hesitancy comes from social media being a tool for revolution, not the revolution. The application of their arguments to this idea advances the understanding of the larger picture and what the Internet can achieve.

Morozov argues that searching for technical solutions, or quick fixes, through the Internet, for problems that are inherent social is largely detrimental to the democratic process (305). However, if technical solutions are not viewed as the quick fix to the social problem but a way to solve the social problem, success can be achieved. Morozov believes that politicians or policy makers become enthralled with the idea of the seductive quick-fix and lose the will to participate in reframing non-technological social problems (305). I agree that there no substitute for on the ground activism and involvement and that not every problem is technological. However, I largely disagree with Morozov. As Karpf had previously mentioned, distinguishing between tactics and strategy is critical to the successes of the Internet. If there is a lack of distinguished difference, then yes, using the Internet as a tool is detrimental in “attacking symptoms” not the root causes (Morozov 304). But employing the Internet as a means to achieving a goal can be both helpful and useful.

Similarly, Gladwell insists that the ways in which people bring down governments is far less interesting that the actual act of bringing down governments (2). This discounts the power of Internet, but does successful employ Karpf’s argument. Gladwell seems to be saying, who cares about the tactics, we care about the strategy. Though limiting in it’s own regard, Gladwell does not discount the Internet, but instead chooses to focus on the ways in which social change is achieved.

As we studied in class, there are many different outcomes in the different countries participating in the Arab Spring. Do you feel this is a reflection of the Internet and how it was used or the environment that it was being used in? What factors hinder or exacerbate the successes of the Internet? 

Posted in Winter 2012 | 1 Comment

Social media’s role in revolutions

I found Morozov’s points in his short piece this week fairly inane.  He discusses how quotes are now qualified with the medium they came in, but this isn’t a new phenomenon. In newspaper articles and television news, reporters always qualify quotes with where they got them if they didn’t get them directly from the person. While reporters may have evolved to include new technology as a source it’s not a revolutionary practice. Morozov’s argument that revolutions that involve social media like many of the Arab Spring uprisings, are not actually different or “revolutionary” from previous ones without social media is seemingly contradicted by his opening argument about Mao’s quote.

In contrast to Morozov’s pessimistic view, Hillicon Valley’s report on the State Departments abandonment of America.gov was far more encouraging about social media use in international relations. I was surprised the State Department abandoned America.gov because government infrastructure and information dissemination is stereotypically non-innovative.  The creation of America.gov and the move to social media reminded me of the trend moving more journalism online. Through that change and the government’s decision to leave America.gov one can clearly see the important role social media plays in informing the public.

Posted in Winter 2012 | 1 Comment

Social Media Acceptance

The internet has changed the way people all over the world live their lives. It has stimulated global commerce and strengthened ties between people thousands of miles apart. Recently, with the revolution that took place in Egypt, many may point fingers towards the internet for what is to blame. Specifically, the social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, have captured the attention of the public because of its potential role in the revolution. The collaboration that social media sites promote can be very effective tools in rallying and mobilizing social activists and protesters. As a result, these sites could have been major players in the events that took place in Egypt. Cohn and Gladwell take two very different positions on social media after the Egyptian revolution. Cohn, of the State Department, stressed the importance of social networking, and how it is the government’s responsibility to take their presence to where the people are. In the case, that place is on social media sites. However, Gladwell does not share the State Department’s view, and he ultimately disagrees with the notion that social media sites play a significant role in determining the fate of a country. Despite Gladwell’s view that the human voice is what really prompts people to revolt, social media gives the public a unique opportunity to communicate and rally outside support when open collaboration is not entirely possible.

When examining Gladwell’s piece, the revolutions he brings up are from a time before social media and even the internet. One interesting example he used was the French Revolution, claiming that people are capable of starting revolutions without social networking sites. While this may be true, modern social change is in dire need of support over the internet, and sites like Twitter and Facebook are becoming so integrated into people’s lives that social movements must utilize them if they wish to gain the support they need. Cohn wrote that “you have to go where the people already are.” This shows that in order for movements to get attention, they must turn to social media’s ability to spread information and mobilize people.

 Gladwell does not seem to realize that sites, like Facebook, do a great job at spreading information at a fast rate and promoting awareness to a cause, which may have been most beneficial to Egypt’s revolution and the Arab Spring before that. 

How large of a role do social media sites play in these revolutions? Has it been increasing?

Posted in Winter 2012 | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Worshiping Social Media

This week’s readings seemed to comment on the notion that we, as citizens, give today’s new Internet technologies far too much praise than they deserve.  We are so captivated by them (and what we believe they can help us achieve) that we are becoming blind to many of their potential downfalls.  Social media, in particular, has become the ultimate new form of political engagement.  Many organizations worldwide are in the process of making a switch from using traditional resources to relay their information to using websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  This switch is even happening in the government: The International Information Program has decided to stop using their America.gov site, and instead shift its focus towards social media projects.  Their Deputy Assistant Secretary, Duncan MacInnes, claims that a “static website is no longer the best way to promote understanding of policy (…) The new paradigm, particularly for reaching youth, is you have to go to where people already are on the Web.  People don’t visit you, you have to go to them.”  Given the rapidly changing communications environment it seems logical that they would make this switch, one that MacInnes claims is a far more “proactive” engagement strategy than what was used before.

However, as Morozov points out, the Internet may not fully incorporate all of the aspects necessary for true activism that traditional methods had.  Also, those creating the social media sites may be experts, technologically, but that does not mean that they are experts socially or politically.  In other words, they don’t know whether their system will effectively engage and mobilize its intended users.  Morozov notes, “Being able to ask the right technological questions requires a good grasp of the sociopolitical context in which a given technology is supposed to be used (…) It is irresponsible to apply more technology to social and political problems that are not technological in nature.”  If it is not completely thought out and used correctly, technology will only lead to further problems like it did for the Iranians whose Tweets were tracked by the government during the revolution. 

Morozov claims, “it is easy to lose sight of real-world dynamics when one is so enthralled by the supposed brilliance of a technological fix.”  This being said, it seems crucial that before more and more government agencies begin to make the same switch that the IIP has, that they consider whether social media truly suits their needs or if they are merely conforming to what they feel they “should” do or “it is time” to do.  Youmans and York point out that “by placing too much emphasis on the role of social media, popular commentaries both mystify its effects and ignore the deeper historical roots of rebellion in the pre-Internet era.”  Do you agree with Youmans/York/Morozov and believe that we have largely overemphasized the effects of social media?  If the government, the most powerful organization in existence, is beginning to turn to it as a means of disseminating information, does that mean that it is destined to be the future for all organizations?

Posted in Winter 2012 | 1 Comment