In Technologies of Cooperation, Rheingold summarizes the Collective Action dilemma as a situation where everyone in a group will benefit from participating in a certain action, but no one individually wants to take any action to achieve the results. Therefore, if everyone acted in his/her’s own self-interest, then no one will be able to enjoy the public good because it does not exist. Thus, when trying to organize a group to achieve a certain outcome that is beneficial for everyone, many groups face common problems like “coping with free riding, solving commitment problems, arranging for the supply of new institutions, and monitoring individual compliance with a set of rules” (Rheingold, 36).
Rheingold then continues to argue that social networks and the internet have significantly decreased the costs associated with collective action. Now, the internet and social networking have emerged “as a dominant form of social organization” (Rheingold, 57). Similarly, Shirky argues in “Faster and Faster” of Here Comes Everybody, that it is easier to organize groups due to the internet. With social tools, the costs of sharing information and coordinating action have decreased significantly. With technology, groups no longer need to engage in long term planning to organize a single event. Meetings, events, or even protests can be done on a more ad hoc basis and it can also be planned quicker than before. These social tools allow more efficient and faster communication between members, but more importantly, they can “create a context more easily in which the barely motivated people can be effective without having to become activists themselves” (Shirky, 182). Therefore, this helps minimize the number of free riders or commitment problems in a group because costs associated with taking action have decreased tremendously. Also, with new social tools, there is no need to create new institutions. We now have the “ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations” (Shirky, 21).
Because technology has made the problem of collective action easier to manage, is the ease of creating new groups necessarily beneficial? Aside from questionable groups forming (Pro-Ana), what other issues or consequences arise from the ease of creating new groups? An example of some of the implications is already being played out in the real world, like the role of social media in the Arab Spring.