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?