Disguising Activism through Social Media

            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? 


About coxmarg

If I'm honest I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales and I like them best of all. - Audrey Hepburn
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2 Responses to Disguising Activism through Social Media

  1. I think you did a great job summarizing and connecting various arguments from the reading this week. You pose several great questions after you acknowledge that Twitter is a highly contested vehicle for social activism (namely, did it really make a difference or not?). I would agree with several of the authors (and yourself) that although we cannot say Twitter caused or initiated the Iranian protests by itself, it was an important influential actor that should be recognized.

    Another important point made in the reading suggested that it’s important to analyze the portion of the Iranian population who actually uses Twitter—a population of young, tech-savvy people who were probably more inclined to protest anyway. In this sense, the audience who was actually receiving the tweets was mostly either 1) the international audience or 2) the very people tweeting — so in this sense, the message was only received by few. So, as the technology spreads, it will probably become more important in organizing social protests — although for the current period of study, it was probably just a small piece of the puzzle.

  2. zkanters says:

    You ask some very interesting and important questions.

    1) While I don’t think it is fair to completely discount social media as a means for revolution and protest, I think people must be aware of it’s downfalls. I also believe revolution and protest are two different things, and social media can be a better outlet for protest than it can be revolution. Due to slacktivism, and the fact that our lives somewhat revolve around the internet, revolution is hard to create online. While it’s a great opportunity to learn more about a certain topic, unless one is ready to change their life, or go out and attempt to change the way things are done, it’s not really an vehicle for revolution. It can however, as you said and other authors, that it can be a componant- possibly due to our change in the definition of activism.

    2) I think it is fair to say our definition of activism has changed since the 60s- not necessarily for the better. I think it’s adjusted in order for slacktivism to be counted as activism, otherwise there wouldn’t really be much attempt of change in our community. We’re a generation that needs immidiate results, and to us, the internet does that.

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