Week 11, Ben Halperin

When a discussion of social networks arises, even in academic writing developed around 30 years ago, I cannot help but to think of the Internet and Facebook. Krutzman’s piece discussed the uprising that led to the Shah’s disposal in Iran in the late 1970s. He discusses the circumstances that allowed for the widespread revolution and subsequent overthrow of the Shah’s government. In the discussion of the revolution, Krutzman wrote about what persuaded the Iranian people to openly protest their government, despite the repressive and violent nature of the military toward the dissenters and revolutionaries. Possible reasons include the notion that others were participating in the protests, and therefore, despite the widespread violence, more people felt comfortable taking part. In addition, it is likely that, due to the government’s unfair treatment of its people and violence toward them, that the Iranians would feel the need to act out against their government. What should also be taken into account, as noted by Kurtzman, even the military was sympathetic to the cause, and would eventually join the revolution, completing the overthrow of the government. How would Facebook or the Internet change this revolution? Not much, in my mind. The Internet might have increased publicity and notoriety for the cause worldwide, but the domestic support was already noticeably pervasive. Therefore, tools such as the Internet and Facebook would have further publicized the event, but would not have altered it greatly where it mattered most, in Iran.

The piece by Snow, et al discusses differential recruitment for social networks, and was also written about 30 years ago. In the paper, they study how people got involved with their social networks. They present possible reasons that someone would be susceptible to be recruited to a social network. One reason is a possible tie that someone has in this network: if one knows a friend, they would likely be influenced by that friend and join the club. Another reason is the “absence of countervailing networks,” which would indicate, “who is structurally most available for participation and therefore most likely to accept the recruitment invitation.” In addition, the essay was specific in mentioning the difference between sympathizers, where someone makes no real physical effort to join a group, and participants, who are actively involved. As with Krutzman’s piece, Snow’s work got me thinking about Facebook, and how it would change recruitment for groups, clubs, or other organizations. Snow’s work talked a lot about face-to-face contact for recruitment, and Facebook has not stopped that. It has been more of a supplement to the face-to-face contact, often when someone is trying to make a decision whether or not to join that group. This would be a way to scope out a group, without making the commitment of physically attending a meeting. The most marked difference for Facebook would be in regards to the idea of sympathizers and participants. Someone can express support, without real participation, by joining a group or “liking” a cause or organization on Facebook.

In both cases, Facebook or the Internet can supplement a cause, but not cause them. The revolution in Iran succeeded, and knowledge of the event was widespread. In much the same way, for the most part, simply using an online social network does not equate to face-to-face, physical participation. The Internet and Facebook might allow for faster and easier connections, but cannot replace physical participation. Especially after events such as the Arab Spring, am I underplaying the importance of online social networks? Will there be a technology that will have a greater impact on recruitment or participation in a movement?

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2 Responses to Week 11, Ben Halperin

  1. emilythibodeau says:

    I do not think you are underplaying the importance of online social networks. I think it is unlikely that social networks will be able to cause an entire movement to take place. During the Blue State Digitial presentation, we discussed how slacktivism can limit actual action, as people are eager to “like” a cause on facebook, but unlikely to show up to events or donate their time or money. For the most part, I think personal ties are most important to political movements, because it is much easier to join a cause when a friend is already attending then joining because you said you would attend the event of facebook. Individuals create accountability and the passion and drive that I think are necessary in social movements, while facebook can help individuals organize, it does not create accountability, passion or drive in my opinion.

  2. lmelamed says:

    I believe you are COMPLETELY undermining today’s social networks (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) ability to garner mass turnout. Through users’ ability to create groups and events on Facebook, other people are able to see the wide turnout and feel more eager to attend and take part in such activities on the streets instead of sitting back and watching everyone else involved. Yes word of mouth is somewhat successful, but is not as reliable as it once was in getting a vast number of people to participate in our social media era. Due to how large social media’s outreach, people from distant nations can be updated on what is going on instantaneously overseas and remain involved by spreading word of movements via status updates and twitter posts. In addition, a majority of people in today’s society rely on social media as opposed to traditional media outlets to be informed on what is going on in our world and what activities, political initiatives, and other social movements they may like to get involved in. Unlike traditional media outlets who are not quite as unbiased as they try to make themselves out to be and are filtered by business and journalistic constraints, users on social networks know that other users hold their own opinions, which is valued at a different, more personal level. Users are able to suggest what activities and other entities their friend groups should like to their buddy lists that often ranges from 500 to 1000’s of people who can refer these links to their own buddy lists. Thus, spreading information quicker than ever before to a larger, global audience.

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