Early on in this course, we learned about Shirky’s utopist beliefs on what social networking media was becoming capable of. The mobilization of activist groups with efficiency and speed had Shirky believing in a new era of political movements and political activism through social media. Gladwell and Morosov, however, believe that social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are given too much credit and that it is overstated in what these sites are capable of.
Gladwell starts by recognizing many influential protests that happened decades before the Internet and social media ever came about and then he moved on to talking about the Moldova protests in 2009 and how it was claimed the “Twitter Revolution” even though Twitter had little significance in Moldova. His point is that activism associated with social media are built around weak ties while many effective protests during the Civil Rights Movement were all through the help of activists who had strong ties with other activists. He makes his claim that “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.” He agrees that social media helps mobilization and motivation through resilience and adaptability, but he argues that without hierarchy (absent from social media) there is no strategy and discipline, which are needed to make any impact at all.
Morosov says the U.S. gives Twitter too much credit on what it can do and uses the protests in Tehran as examples. It’s natural for us to think the group of few Twitter users, in Iran, are somehow connected to the thousands protesting in the streets, but Morosov is saying that that’s not necessarily the case. He states the new media is like the game “Telephone” because “errors accumulate in the transmission process, until the final message has nothing to do with the original.” His argument is that people (Americans and U.S. government) need to get realistic about what the Internet can and cannot do.
I agree with what Morosov is arguing but I don’t completely agree with what Gladwell argues. Gladwell is saying that social media, as a political activism tool, cannot work to help when we’re faced with actual dangers, however, I believe that even if social media is disorganized, without hierarchy and discipline, social media is what leads to and helps people become informed with the issues. Informing the weak-tied connections in social networking sites can lead to people connecting more and building stronger ties and/or lead people to go out and search for ways to find activist groups that have structure and discipline.
Is Twitter and other forms of social media really overstated? Do you agree with Morosov that social media changes the original messages? Do you agree with Gladwell that the weak-tied connections of social media make it harder for activists to make an impact? Do you think Morosov and Gladwell’s claim on Twitter being overstated will continue to worsen or get better as more and more countries/governments become Internet savvy?