Week 12- Gladwell/Morozov

I believe that many Americans hold the ‘cyber-utopian’ belief that social networks have been a leading factor in social activism and worldwide revolution. I contend that American media coverage, some misunderstanding of foreign events, and a general over optimism in collective action through social media, the effects of social media networks are overstated. Both of the readings this week speak in regards to Twitter’s overstated significance in the “Iranian Twitter Revolution.”

Morozov argues that many Americans/Westerners held the belief that Twitter had an extremely large role in the revolution but are misinformed. He mentions the difficulty of packing contextual information in 140 characters or less and he also states that it is also unwise to look past to ‘Telephone’ qualities of Twitter. He also argues that authoritarian governments are able to reverse the effectiveness of social media and use it for their advantage. He says, “A Twitter revolution is only possible in a regime where the state apparatus is completely ignorant of the Internet and has no virtual presence of its own.” He calls for people to understand how Twitter is actually operating in events such as Iran, instead of giving it too much credence.

Gladwell’s piece relates new social media technologies, such as Twitter, to the social activism that fueled the Civil Rights era and events such as sit-ins. He contends that Twitter and the Internet allow us to develop many ties and diffuse information at great efficiency, but he also claims social networks are built around weak ties that “seldom lead to high-risk activism,” such as the racial and oftentimes dangerous civil rights protests. In my opinion, this allows movements to gather a lot of ‘support,’ but not necessarily action. It is really easy for people to Tweet about an event, such as Kony 2012, but there is no further activism or motivation to participate and carry out the strategic aspects of the movements.

Overall, I tend to agree with both Morozov and Gladwell that Twitter’s effectiveness was highly overstated. However, do you think Twitter will be effective in the 2012 Election cycle where short messages, such as reminders to vote, will be instrumental in actually getting people to participate? Is slactivism just as big of an issue for domestic movements?


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Student at The University of Michigan
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5 Responses to Week 12- Gladwell/Morozov

  1. farleyan says:

    Morozov and Gladwell definitely have a point when they say that Twitter was not as effective as people perceived it to be. However, what we discussed in class today was also pretty convincing. We said that, while posting messages on Twitter and Facebook don’t necessarily motivate people to get up and actively participate in something, it connects those who are willing to do something, enlarging the possibility for a national movement. I think this idea can be applied to your question – while Twitter and Facebook may not be tools that inspire someone to actively do something for a campaign, it can connect the people who do want to do something on a national level. In addition to that, these social media will also play a role in name recognition for candidates. Because there are many voters in the United States that do not take the time to learn a candidates’ policies and vote solely on name recognition, these tools will aid in spreading a candidates’ name. As far as slacktivism goes in the United States, I think we epitomize this idea throughout the entire world. The United States has an enormous online presence, and we spread a lot of information to each over social networks. However, the cause seems to come to a dead halt after we share its link on the Internet. Part of the reason I think this is happening is because of the lack of movements that people get involved with within the United States; most of our huge online social campaigns are focused on issues outside of the United States (Kony 2012, Darfur, Iraq War, etc.). If we had a movement that a large movement that was occurring within the United States, maybe we would have a bigger and more widespread interest in it.

  2. rebyi says:

    I, also, agree with Morozov and Gladwell that Twitter is highly overstated. However, I do believe Twitter and other social media outlets will be effective. Even though slactivism may occur in activist movements and, therefore, only create motivation to be involved online, I believe that is only the case because people want to seem like they care about an issue that isn’t too relevant in their life. Voting, however, is different. Electing a president is relevant for every citizen because it will directly affect them, so it gives everybody a motive to actually be active. Therefore, Twitter’s brief concise messages will only make it easier for voters to get their information about their candidate and even motivate people who weren’t going to vote, because of its easy way of communicating platforms and persuading citizens that it does affect each individual.

  3. I also agree with Gladwell and Morozov that Twitter is slightly overstated, but I do indeed think that Twitter will be effective in the upcoming 2012 election. Like we spoke about in class yesterday, I think that Twitter is extremely important in creating conversations and crossing over between networks. Like the example we talked about in class regarding the revolt in China, it proved that Twitter was successful in that in increased the protest to a national level, drawing the bridge between different networks. I think this will also be true of the election, in terms of gathering support; however, I also think that slacktivism will occur as well. I will be very surprised if through Twitter people will actually go and volunteer and knock on people’s doors etc. However, perhaps a quick reminder on your Twitter feed while waiting for transportation or glancing at our phone will actually get someone to go vote. For my personal usage, I know that I frequently refresh my Twitter feed on my phone when I’m bored and I think it would probably catch my eye to see messages from the presidential campaign.

  4. ekaz95 says:

    I think Twitter will be useful in this election by simply making more people aware of what is actually going on. In past elections, the only way for the public to gain information about the candidates, their positions, or their events was by actively trying to seek it out. Now with Twitter feeds, all it takes is for people to be following a candidate or a press service and as they scroll through tweets they will be subsequently exposed to such information. I firmly believe that part of the reason why some people don’t get involved as much in elections isn’t necessarily their lack of interest, just a lack of effort. Twitter, through the power of slacktivism, diminishes the effect of this problem. With the surge of young people voting in the 2008 ‘digital’ election, one can only expect to see voter turnout continue to rise come November.

  5. smisarah says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that Twitter will be an effective tool for candidates in the 2012 election. I think in general we can agree by now that social media doesn’t necessarily CAUSE action – there’s no way a President could get elected through a Twitter-only campaign – but that doesn’t mean that an online campaign can’t help a candidate reach their offline goal. I think that people who connect with the candidates on social media and receive their messages daily will have a stronger motivation to vote for that candidate than a person who knows little about their views, and I think they’ll have a better understanding of the importance of voting and fundraising to the campaign. Even if a person doesn’t connect with the candidates, I think social media will serve as a reminder to vote come Election Day, when people see that their friends are going to the polls.

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