The overwhelmingly consensus from the readings seems to be that social media is neither the catalyst for revolutions or a tool for serious protesting. The credit Twitter has received for the Iranian protests in 2009 is misplaced and the predictions of its future possibilities misguided. Authors Morozov and Gladwelll are the most skeptic but also the most convincing. Twitter and social media in general are poorly suited for real protests that require strong-ties and strategic planning that challenges the engrained norms of a society. However, social media should not be completely discounted. Even though social media should never be solely relied upon, it is a beneficial tool during protests and revolutions.
Gladwell argues that Twitter cannot create the requirements for a real revolution. He cites the Civil Rights Movement and the Greenboro sit-ins to contrast the “Twitter Revolution” in Iran. Twitter as a tool for revolution lacks a hierarchical structure, strong-ties, and strategy. Social media allows people to follow people they don’t know and remain in contact with acquaintances; it doesn’t create the same bond that occurs within physical organizations and movements. Gladwell argues that you cannot ask too much of a network made up of weak-ties and it will rarely lead to high-risk activism. People outside of Iran advocating for the revolution ran almost no risk in their speech or actions. Twitter also presents a problem with creating a hierarchical structure. Without a leader it is hard to reach consensus, make divisions, and divide labor. Lastly, real movements take organizing, scouting, teaching, and planning which are impossible via social networks.
Morozov makes a similar argument but focuses on the backlash the Twitter Revolution had. He compares Twitter to a traditional game of telephone; the final message is never the same as the original and is also full of errors. Like past readings, he talks about social media involvement as being a form of slacktivism. Slacktivism ended up causing more harm by making the Iranian Internet unusable because tweets clogged the system.
Both authors are compelling. Twitter was a tool, not a cause for the 2009 protests. These protests did not have the same lasting effect or activism as the Civil Rights Movement. However, Twitter did act as a way of communicating within Tehran and got the attention of the entire world. Gladwell also ignores the bloggers and citizens that were imprisoned for their speech and the viral video of a woman being murdered during a protest. If that is not high-risk behavior that what is?
I have two questions for the class
1. Is it fair to discount social media as a means for revolution and protest?
2. After reading Gladwell, is it fair to say our definition of what activism is has changed since the 1960s? Do we recognize slacktivism as activism?