Strong and Weak Ties

            Lately, the fight for democracy in several countries has been attributed with the use of social media sites like Twitter. It allows for quick communication and the ability to rally a large group of people towards a common cause. However, was Twitter truly effective in rallying entire countries behind the idea of democracy? Malcolm Gladwell does not think the social media is the reason behind these revolutions and social protests, and he echoes Morozov when he says that the networking caused by social media doesn’t necessarily cause action from participants.

            Gladwell focused on “strong ties” versus “weak ties.” He described strong ties as the relationships one has with people they know closely, causing these “critical friends” to be more influential to joining a cause. Using the civil rights era as an example of strong ties, Gladwell pointed out that active protests spread very well without the help of a tool like Twitter. For example, the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964 was driven by the connection of African Americans and the volunteers that came to help them vote. Weak ties are what social media provides to the public. These represent the relationships we have with our acquaintances or unfamiliar accounts we follow. Social media is great of obtaining new and information, but how effective is it at making people actually participate in causes. We can also connect this notion back to Morozov’s “Slacktivism.” Morozov’s idea that calling for action online will not yield much action is very similar to what Gladwell is trying to describe about activism over Twitter.

            Shirky is a huge advocate for the internet’s potential for social action, and the “Sidekick” example he provides is a good account of how social media can rally people to take action. However, Gladwell points out that while social media can provide some help towards action, it is truly the strong ties and personal connections that prompted the action to find the phone. Will the network nature of the internet create an atmosphere of weak ties, leaving action to be desired?

Who do you agree with: Gladwell/Morozov or Shirky? How can social media’s “weak ties” lead to action? 

This entry was posted in Winter 2012 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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