Has social media replaced high-risk activism?

Throughout reading Malcom Gladwell’s piece on, “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” Morozov’s “Slacktivisim” once again echoed throughout my head.

Gladwell opens with a narrative on the 1960 year-long Greensboro sit-in that inspired so many young college students to fight for their Civil Rights.  Day-by-day, the protest would grow, as many more wanted to be apart of such a movement. Political theorist Michael Walzer wrote,” It [the protest] was like a fever. Everyone wanted to go.” Eventually, nearly 70,000 students were reported to take part in the sit-in. Despite the arrests and threats of violence, people still participated and banded together for a cause. Gladwell in particular, mentions, without the use of e-mail, texting, Facebook or Twitter.

 Nearly 54 years later, our tools of  “revolution” are quite different and maybe we have begun to forget what true activism really is.  Social Media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have completely recreated social activism (Gladwell, p.2). Gone are the days of rallying or picketing for a cause; that has been replaced by “virtually” signing petitions and sending email chains. Once again, Morozov presents the idea of “slacktivism,” which is as he describes it “an apt term to describe feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact.” He believes that slacktivism is the perfect form of activism for a “lazy generation” of dependent Internet users who would rather post status updates and sign petitions then “fight” for a cause that they believe in. This “fighting” as Gladwell presents it can be labeled as high-risk, as something that involves a high degree of personal connection such as a close friend or a high commitment to the goals and values moreover, “strong-ties” (p.4).  While there are strengths in social media outlets, such as fundraising or building identification with a cause, it is not as powerful as campaigning and protesting for something you believe it.

So with this, I ask: are you more willing to engage in “high-risk” activism for a cause that you deeply believe in, or participate virtually through Facebook and Twitter? Do you believe that we are turning into a lazy generation that fails to rally behind causes?

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5 Responses to Has social media replaced high-risk activism?

  1. marinanazario says:

    I think in the case of Iran, it was in the peoples best interest to not protest in the streets because it was a much more violent, ruthless setting. I think as much as the people might have wanted to be active and protest for something they believed in, they would rather live than risk dying. So social media created this safe haven for them to express their thoughts and reach out to foreign countries who had the resources to actively do something about what was going on in Iran. Although I did think the Greensboro sit-ins were very well organized and crafty… that just would not work now because the world seems so much more dangerous, you never know the reaction you’re going to get, where as you can be behind a computer fundraising and creating awareness in the safety of your home.

  2. Cameron says:

    I had the same thoughts that you did about slacktivism when I read the Gladwell article. I think this idea of strong ties and weak ties is very intriguing. I agree with Gladwell’s assertion that weak ties are crucial for establishing participation. In class, the idea that weak ties are not too useful in establishing revolutions and Gladwell’s article doesn’t put forth an effective argument. However, I tend disagree with this. While obviously strong ties are crucial for a strong organizational leadership, weak ties are also integral in garnering support. There is power in numbers and weak ties are a key method of achieving these numbers. An all weak tie strategy would obviously not work, but I also don’t think an strictly strong tie strategy would work either. A mix is required, just look at Greensboro. Four college students with strong ties were able to start, but weak ties were the reason it was truly successful as it required a large number of people to make an impact on the cafe.

  3. hansmith91 says:

    Yes, I feel that I am more willing to engage in high-risk activism for a cause I truly believe in. However, I can’t say I would feel the same if I lived in a country in which citizens were taking part in a violent revolution. Had I been a citizen of Iran during the “Twitter Revolution,” I would probably have taken what Morozov considers the easy way out and stuck to various types of social media activism. While people did receive punishment for anti-government discussion online, it was probably less likely to occur (or harm them) than the risk they took by physically rallying in the streets. I think depending on what the activism is about and the harshness of the environment in which it is occurring, people will vary the in terms of the ways in which they engage in protest.

  4. srachelb says:

    For obvious reasons, I am more willing to participate virtually through Facebook and Twitter than I am to engage in high-risk activism. When the option to be active online is available, it is tempting to choose as the easy way out. While I am willing to engage in high-risk activism, just as Gladwell says, I am likely to do so only if my close friends (strong-ties) or I feel especially connected to the cause. The concept of strong-ties makes perfect sense: clearly I would be more likely to go out of my way to support a cause if I would also be supporting my friend by doing so. Unfortunately, however, I do agree with Gladwell that the weak-ties of social media rarely, if ever, lead to high-risk activism. Just as Gladwell points out, often people become active on social networks simply because they wish to receive acknowledgement and praise for doing so; they do not actually wish to become an active fighter for the cause. Facebook and Twitter allow our generation to feel as if they have rallied behind a cause without actually having done anything effective. This habit will only increase the laziness of our generation and make them less likely to rally in high-risk ways that actually make a difference. It is extremely beneficial to utilize social media for the organization of revolutions and protests, but using social media as the actual platform for activism is much less effective than the traditional high-risk methods of activism.

  5. arieloz says:

    I admit that I am overall more willing to participate virtually through Facebook and Twitter than I am to engage in high-risk activism. This does not necessarily mean that I am taking the easy way out or being lazy. If I am not that passionate about the cause I would not be willing to risk my life to protest. However, I agree with Gladwell that I am more likely to participate in high-risk activism only if I am extremely passionate about the cause or if my close friends (strong-ties) are involved. I would be more likely to go out of my way to support a cause that I feel strongly about or feel socially pressured to support by my close friends.

    As an American, I have the right to the freedom of speech and know that I will not be risking my life by posting a Facebook status or joining a protest group page. Unfortunately, this was not the same case for Iranians during the “Twitter Revolution.” In this case, the “high-risk” activism was posting on the Internet rather than attending the protests in person. This is quite opposite from the modern day risks of protesting in America. Had I been a citizen of Iran during this time, I am not sure that I would have posted a status on Facebook or tweeted out of fear for my life and my family members. It was very dangerous to use Twitter in oppressive countries like Iran because they hunted down those using social media to protest. Instead, by attending an in person protest you are able to blend in with the crowd and not be picked out for your specific contributions to the protest.

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