Week 12 – Gladwell/Morozov

Howard, Morozov and Gladwell each take a different lens and stance on the role of Twitter in “Iran’s Twitter Revolution” and extrapolate these findings to the larger Islamic society. After reading these three authors and internalizing their arguments, I contend that sooner or later, social media applications will be of too large a size that authoritarian regimes will have to embrace these networks in order to keep up with the ways of the modern world. 

Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the New Yorker took an interesting approach, as he tried to figure out the definition and concept of activism by comparing Iran’s situation with that of 1960s America and the Sit-Ins/Civil Rights Movement. Gladwell makes some key points about social media platforms as containing weak-ties that change the way one approaches social activism. The lack of a hierarchical structure in networks like Facebook and Twitter contribute to forming a web of relationships that can only grow and expand further and further, out of a local Iranian community and into a diasporic one that rests in international borders. But, Gladwell does make a point that I agree with about the ways in which social media can be a messy arena. Publishing Tweets or Facebook statuses as a speedy pace and on mobile devices where mistakes can be overlooked is bound to lead to some “Telephone”-like results, as mentioned by Morozov as well.

Similarly, Morozov draws on this point as well by mentioning that it is impossible to “pack much context” into a message that caps at 140 characters. (12) Twitter’s benefits rest in its structure and functionality as a service that spreads short messages, yet it does allow room for error that can ultimately harm a particular cause. Overall, Morozov’s overall stance is negative towards the media’s (and globe’s) association of Twitter as the underpinning of the 2009 Iran Revolution, and this is clearly evident across his analysis.

My argument about the growing size and capabilities of these social networks developed after reading all three authors, and taking into consideration each of their main points. Howard frequently draws on statistics that elude to the growing rise of new media technologies in private homes. Although the governing power may have the ultimate say, I think that Facebook and Twitter are ballooning out of control, even outside of crisis-based situations, to the point that one government will not have enough electronic power to stop incoming messages received through these sites. It is becoming a main way of communicating both nationally and across borders to diaspora communities, for example (as discussed in class on Wednesday with the activity). Even in times of censorship, people have found a way to get around this temporary blockage; this demonstrates a preview of what I think is to come as computers become even more integrated into the home in Islamic societies and a part of all daily activities.

Does a similar story go for Facebook as it does for Twitter? Would Facebook work similarly in this situation, or is it too personal of a social network? What does Twitter have that Facebook lacks, and why do you think people turned to this SNS specifically in 2009 in Tehran?

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1 Response to Week 12 – Gladwell/Morozov

  1. tommyotoole says:

    After our discussion in class and the actual realities surrounding Twitter’s importance in Tehran, 2009, I would almost argue that Twitter lacks something that Facebook has, making it more beneficial for the situation in Iran. Twitter, in my opinion, creates even weaker ties than Facebook, making short, succinct messages easily disseminated across broad populations with no social ties at all. Twitter’s 140 Character ‘blurbs’ regarding the revolution were not personal communications amongst activists, but they were produced tweets aimed at Western Culture. I don’t think Facebook would have helped the activist cause in Tehran in any different way,however, and I only think that it would have allowed more access of the movement for the government. In general though, I think Facebook’s structure allows for more strong ties due to in-site features and motivations for using the site in general, but Twitter’s functions seem like they are strictly limited to short, impersonal blurbs from people you may have zero association with. Tweeting in Iran gave the United States an inaccurate perception of the 2009 revolutionary response to the revolution, and I think Facebook would have yielded similar results.

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