Week 12

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?

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2 Responses to Week 12

  1. jordanaltman says:

    I think that social media devices indeed have the potential to strongly motivate activism. However, simply coming together through Internet conversation may not be enough to make this happen. Although I understand where Morozov and Gladwell are coming from, I believe they are selling social media’s power short. Think of the Howard Dean example we looked at a few weeks ago. As many said, Dead did not run a campaign, he started a movement. What was the key in Dean’s campaign/movement? The answer is that he used social media platforms to ALLOW PEOPLE TO MEET WITH ONE ANOTHER IN PERSON. Therefore, stronger ties were able to form as people started to actually engage with each other outside of the social media platform. The social media is nevertheless critical because it is what helps to spark social gatherings where people can meet in person and collectively work towards a common goal.

    So, in my opinion, social media platforms should continue to encourage actual meetings to form. In the future, however, digital conferences through social media platforms will be an excellent way to motivate participants. Imagine if there was an application where every member of a movement could hold an online meeting, and then move this to YouTube for the movement to spread. It could really change the way social media impacts activism. In terms of whether or not I believe Iran is better off with social media, I would say yes- because I believe all societies benefit from social media use.

  2. christinab3 says:

    Although I agree with Morozov and Gladwell’s notion that Twitter is limited in its persuasive capability, I still believe social media have the potential to encourage and motivate people into activism. We are still developing strategies and ideas for what works in regards to Internet activism and what doesn’t, but already we have seen that social media can have an impact on politics and social movements. Above, Jordan talks about Howard Dean. Dean’s campaign helps us see how not to use social media in a campaign and Obama’s 2008 campaign showed us what can work. We have seen that social media partnered with actual human interaction is far more beneficial, and I think if we incorporate that strategy into our use of Twitter, Twitter might be more effective in motivating people into action.

    Regarding Iran, I think that it definitely benefits from social media use because it allows citizens to communicate with one another (despite the fact that this kind of communication can easily be monitored by the government). Overall, in addition to efficient communication, social media can help enlist the assistance of other countries, like the United States, and reach a much larger audience than any other underground or traditional media could in the past. Therefore, I believe Iran and similar countries are better with social media.

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