Week 12 Howard/Gladwell/Shirky

The readings for this week focus on the prevalence of new social media and the effects it is having on societies, primarily in relation to the revolutions occurring in the Middle East. More recently, researchers have chosen to look at the effects of sites such as Twitter and Facebook, while also taking into consideration old technologies such as email, text messaging, radio and television. Both the Howard and Gladwell articles can be related to Shirky’s idea of collective action. New communicative technologies have reinvented the idea of social activism, making it easier for people to collaborate and share ideas, but it is leading toward the direction of “slacktivism.”

Howard begins by noting that cyberactivism is no longer isolated to hackers, but that it is now embedded in society and lies in the hands of amateurs. He claims that the onset of contemporary movements require only the most basic technological skills–as long as one has access to a computer or mobile phone, one can easily participate and be involved in a social movement. He notes that “information and communication technologues are the infrastructure for transposing democratic ideals from community to community” (p. 11). The networking opportunities that sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer, even if it is only limited by 140 characters, can be very powerful. These communications tools allow for the formation of social movements because individuals can organize together, exchange information and maintain contact with one another. He expands on this idea in relation to the effects of the Twitter revolution and the digital activism that took place in Iran in 2009.

Gladwell further explains how social media has reinvented social activism. He begins by detailing the civil rights movement in the 60’s and compares it to the new information and communicative technologies. He claims that social media sites like Twitter give people power. He says that modern activists are now defined by their tools and not necessarily their cause. He points out the Freedom Summer case and notes that the supporters and activists of this movement were highly committed and articulate. Gladwell refers to these activists as people who have “strong-ties” with one another. He says that new social media activism lacks these strong ties and claims that while networking on Facebook and Twitter is good, it often times creates “weak-ties” and seldom leads to high-risk activism. New social media is responsible for the building of networks but not hierarchies of organization.

My question, that some of the authors pose as well, is how effective do you think Twitter and new social media really is?Looking at the movements that took place in the 60’s, do you think the tools people utilized back then were more effective?

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2 Responses to Week 12 Howard/Gladwell/Shirky

  1. kbyrd23 says:

    Great question. I feel that social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are effective in spreading knowledge and general awareness of social issues. The most recent example of this I can think of is the Kony 2012 video. Before this video, noone knew who Joseph Kony was or the atrocities that he committed. Even though the video campaign may not have been effective in raising money for the cause or making actual change happen, spreading information is a critical step in eventually creating social change. Even if the majority of social media users don’t take action when confronted with a social issue, the few that actually donate money or take political action are worth the effort. So I submit that social media is a good/efficient first step in creating social change but is not by itself sufficient.

    In regards to the social movements of the 1960s, I don’t think that they had special tactics or executed tactics more effectively than today. I think that a main reason the movements of the 1960s were so effective is that the issues hit close to home in America and the spirit of the youth culture. Civili rights was an issue that directly affected every American, unlike the foreign social issues we hear about everyday on our Newsfeeds. Adolescents in the 1960s had a strong desire to explore the world and make a new way for themselves, a side effect of the hyper-community atmosphere of the 1950s full of business and government control. I think that the 1960s in America was a perfect storm of rebellious culture and close to home issues that resulted in some of the largest sweeping social changes in U.S. history. Since people intrinsically cared and there were issues at home, I think it was easier to rally support for grassroots campaigns which eventually got the ball rolling on getting Americans to think about social injustice.

  2. kbking1 says:

    I agree with Morozov and Gladwell that the persuasive capability of twitter is overstated. In complicated issues, a 140 character message is probably only going to convince people who already believe what it’s saying. Additionally, the organizational capacity of twitter is pretty limited because the communicative format of the site is kind of vague and directionless. You can tweet at people but most of the time you’re just tweeting and whoever happens to follow you can read it. The message is less personalized. Twitter allows people to say what they think, but simply projecting an opinion isn’t enough to convince people that they should have it as well. So the Civil Rights protests were successful partly because people were immediately engaged in the environment which encouraged them to participate (they invited people in their dorms, then the nearby area, until it spread). I think maybe sites like Twitter and Facebook could actually be detrimental because of the phenomenon of “slactivism,” because people can just retweet something or put something as their status and pat themselves on the back. Before social media, actual, observable action was the standard of participation.

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