Malcom Gladwell’s comparison of the civil rights movement in the 1960s with the current social media revolution is compelling. Gladwell notes that civil rights activists successfully organized and executed sit-ins without the employment of modern technologies (e.g. e-email, texting, Facebook, and Twitter). Moreover, his discussion of weak and strong ties is enlightening. Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam finds that an individual’s personal connection to the civil-rights movement is highly correlated with activism. He avers, high-risk activism is a “strong-tie.” However, social media activism is dissimilar – it incorporates weak ties. Acquaintances are the core of Twitter and Facebook. The greatest difference is that during the civil rights movement individuals were motivated to a greater extent, while activists today are less motivated but participate more often. It is important to point out that social media tools:
[Make] it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.
In turn, does social media help opposition movements or impede them?
Evgeny Morozov reports from an interesting angle in his article “Iran: Downside to the ‘Twitter Revolution.'” He argues that, despite popular belief, Twitter hinders the opposition movement. The exchange of information and messages on the online community is not only available to the mass public, but it is also available to the Iranian regime. He fears that this could be utilized as evidence against the revolutionaries in the future. Furthermore, “misinformation” about meeting times and locations has been widely disseminated on such sites, including Twitterspam.com. This makes it difficult for large groups of activists to convene. He presents the term “slactivism,” which is used to describe “feel good but useless Internet activism.” A colossal amount of people may participate in an online event or a Facebook group, but their impact is minimal. This is a similar conclusion to that of Gladwell.
Question: Social media devices are excellent resources for increasing participation. However, the lack of motivation that accompanies it hinders large social and political movements, minimizing their impact. What can be done to invoke greater motivation among individuals who utilize these tools and do you believe that societies, such as Iran, were better off before the advent of social media?