Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Social Networks Technology

Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted 305

Posted by Soulskill
from the lost-amid-breakfast-descriptions dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Social media is ill-suited to promoting real social change, argues Malcolm Gladwell in this article from The New Yorker magazine. He deftly debunks conventional wisdom surrounding the impact of Twitter, Facebook and other social media in driving systemic social change, comparing them to the organizational strategies of the 1960s civil rights movement. For example, the Montgomery bus boycott, he argues, was successful because it was driven by the disciplined and hierarchically organized NAACP. In contrast, a loose, social-media style network wouldn't have sustained the year long campaign. He concludes that social media promote social 'weak ties' which are not strong enough to motivate people to take big risks, such as imprisonment or attack, for social change."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted

Comments Filter:
  • ping (Score:5, Funny)

    by alphatel (1450715) * on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:15PM (#33762746)
    I can haz revolution?
  • But (Score:5, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:20PM (#33762846) Homepage Journal

    On the more subtle side, social media does influence the electorate, therefore affecting votes and possibly politicians. So even if it may not bring about drastic, almost revolutionary change, it will certainly influence politics.

    • And the example of how it affects the electorate shows again that tweeting is a tool used by politicians to both read and influence the people.

      The article makes twitter up as the cause or driving force of change. That's never the truth. Radio, TV, the internet, and all the tools on the internet are just that, tools. Statements like "The revolution will be Televised/Tweeted/Facebooked/beamed directly into our brains" is true, because whenever the revolution comes it will be broadcast on as many mediums as

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekmux (1040042)

      On the more subtle side, social media does influence the electorate, therefore affecting votes and possibly politicians. So even if it may not bring about drastic, almost revolutionary change, it will certainly influence politics.

      The only thing that has influenced politics in the last 50 years is summarized in a single line...In my sig.

  • by BobMcD (601576) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:20PM (#33762850)

    Article posts 'October 4 2010' as the publication date... Unless I pulled a Rip Van Winkle at my desk just now, we're looking at news FROM THE FUTURE!!! :)

  • Green sashes anyone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:25PM (#33762938)
    I know a lot of iranian protestors who seemed convinced otherwise.
  • by BerntB (584621) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:25PM (#33762940)

    "He concludes that social media promote social 'weak ties' which are not strong enough to motivate people to take big risks, such as imprisonment or attack, for social change."

    Call me a cynic (-: cheap flattery works :-), but I can't imagine anything that would motivate me for that much of social change. Mostly because most other societal systems are more or less as good/bad (inside a factor of two) as the where I live.

    And if I did get motivated to change society, I would support (or maybe even join!) a political party and try to get into the parliament. Since that is allowed where I live.

  • by cfulton (543949) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:25PM (#33762948)
    Just social media doesn't promote anything. It is a tool. I will bet the NAACP used the phone when promoting the boycott. It may take an organizational structure to promote social change. But, that organization can use social media as a tool to communicate with and motivate its base.
    • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:49PM (#33763306) Homepage Journal
      That's a very good point. However, if you notice, the author of this article is not the one making the claim that social media will do the promoting. Rather, he is trying to debunk that very claim as made by others. Apparently, quite a few folks feel the the social media revolution has, or will, revolutionize the way people organize to make change. There have even been books written about this. The author is making the point that social media can only be used as a tool to make change where there is little risk for those involved in the movement. For any change that requires real risk, social media is an inadequate tool because the ties formed through social media are not binding enough to give protesters enough confidence. So the miscategorization of the role of social media is not so much on the side of the author, but rather on the side of those that he is attempting to rebuff.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Sure, you can use it as a communication tool. But that's it. The author's thesis seems to be that in order to have the commitment and discipline to actually have an effect, you have to have strong social ties. The kind that come from meeting and getting to know the people you're working with face to face.

      Social media connections, on the other hand, are too weak to support anything like that. Would you risk your life because someone on Twitter told you to? Or someone on Slashdot?

      "He concludes that socia

  • by Quantus347 (1220456) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:28PM (#33762994)
    The primary benefit of these sites is not in organizing (as in administration) such movements, but in organizing (as is bringing together) large numbers of like-minded individuals. Of course a rudderless anarchistic model would not last year long campaigns; any "organization" that is left as a disorganized amorphous blob will collapse as soon as the initial catalystic spark dies off. On the other hand, if those same Montgomery bus boycotters had a Facebook presence available to them, the movement could have gone national or beyond. These modern tools are just that: Tools. A serious movement would still need serious leadership.
    • by tibman (623933)

      I know, the article made it sound like you couldn't fit a hierarchy within social media too.

      Also "not your personal army" and all that jazz. Decentralized is not always weak, though probably short lived.

    • I saw this a year or two back listening to a podcast by the author of Wikinomics:Here Comes Everybody, he kept talking about how people used communications networks increasingly to organize.

      It became clear the next rotation of social networking would be self-organizing.

      It would allow your local PTA/HOA to do their monthly business without leaving your home, same goes for administering Boy/Girl scouts, charities, volunteer programs, political campaigns, fan-clubs, etc.

      When the group decided anarchy wasn't en

  • I just hope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by somaTh (1154199) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:33PM (#33763090) Journal
    That when the revolution does come, Mark Zuckerburg is the first against the wall.
    • by Zocalo (252965)
      Unfortunately I believe that the lawyers recently had their long-held position at the head of the queue usurped by the bankers, so it might take a while before we can get around to Zuckerberg.

      Besides, aren't the geek supposed to inherit the earth or something?
      • by somaTh (1154199)
        Fine, one of the first ones against the wall. Along with The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.
  • Say what you want about today's social problems, but today you don't have a society that thinks its ok to make people give up their seats because of the color of their skin. Changing was inevitable regardless of what technology was used.
  • Yes and no. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <taikiNO@SPAMcox.net> on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:36PM (#33763124)

    While ad-hoc organization may not work, comparing it to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 50's, if they had Twitter, Facebook etc. the NAACP could've gotten their message out faster and in a more efficient way.

    I mean, it did work well for the Obama Campaign.

  • Activism is dead (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:40PM (#33763162) Homepage

    Activism from the left is dead in the US. There's no significant, effective opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the concentration of wealth, the crushing of unions, the decline in wages, or the tax benefits enjoyed by Wall Street. (All of which would have been unacceptable to the Eisenhower administration, an indication of how far to the Right the US has moved.)

    The activist organizations that accomplish anything are either on the Right, funded by big business, or church-based. Or they're purely self-interested, like gun owners and gays.

    Much of '60s activism was powered by music. That's over. Today's musicians have near zero political effect.

    • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <taikiNO@SPAMcox.net> on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:49PM (#33763312)

      All of which would have been unacceptable to the Eisenhower administration, an indication of how far to the Right the US has moved.

      Forget Eisenhower, this shit would've offended Nixon.

      THAT is a much better indication about what's wrong.

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday October 01, 2010 @03:19PM (#33763684)
      Actually, it was powered by the fact that a bunch of college kids didn't want to get drafted and go fight in shithole Vietnam. The hippies were just as selfish and self-interested as any other generation. The difference is that kids today don't have to worry about that. Wars are for volunteers now.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by clarkkent09 (1104833)
      Part of the reason is that the ideological battle between capitalism and socialism that characterized the second half of the 20th century is over and capitalism has won decisively. Not just in USA but all over the world (Cuba and North Korea exempted and even Cuba is privatizing). The rest is details and details are not as exciting to fight over as principles.
  • King and country (Score:4, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:40PM (#33763170)

    The same argument could have been made against the civil rights movement in the 60s. The author would have argued that as the NCAAP was using the telephone to organize rather than meeting always face to face drinking pints at the local as the Sons of Liberty did, that Dr. King was doomed to fail because his network relied on telephone calls and so was too loose.

  • by Midnight's Shadow (1517137) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:44PM (#33763228)

    If a group like the NAACP had tried the same stunts in a more dictatorial country, say Iran or Cuba, how long would they have lasted? How long would an actual organization survive with their leaders constantly arrested, tried and executed with in a week of founding the organization?

    Twitter, Facebook and the like have the advantage of anonymity when organizing and implementing plans.

    • by 0111 1110 (518466)

      Twitter, Facebook and the like have the advantage of anonymity when organizing and implementing plans.

      Facebook and Twitter are anonymous?

    • "If a group like the NAACP had tried the same stunts in a more dictatorial country, say Iran or Cuba, how long would they have lasted? How long would an actual organization survive with their leaders constantly arrested, tried and executed with in a week of founding the organization?"

      South Africa's apartheid.

      Since Mandela was jailed for 27 years, there you have a lower limit.

  • Right.
    Ask the people ACS:Law about the power of weak social media.
    Anonymous poked their buttons, were dismissed as "trivial", then they stepped it up and exposed weaknesses in ACS:Law that is still having repercussions for the organization.

    Twitters exposing election fraud in more than a few countries hasn't made the news either.

    I think people are either foolishly underestimating the power of people who can communicate or purposely trying to trivialize in the vain hope of preventing people from using their "

    • ...or purposely trying to trivialize in the vain hope of preventing people from using their "mob power".

      Given the massive privacy invasions that are offered by such sites, law enforcement would love it if all social activism were directed through them. This article hardly trivializes the power of people who can communicate. It attempts to untrivialize the actions of the blacks in America who risked their life and freedom to be treated as equals. Now if they had organized themselves on Facebook and the CIA had simply read all their communications, would it have been as effective?

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:49PM (#33763300) Homepage

    n/t

  • Check out the author's two twitter accounts:

    http://twitter.com/Malcgladwell [twitter.com]
    http://twitter.com/gladwell [twitter.com]

    Combined # of tweets: 32
    Combined # of people he follows: 12, nearly all of whom are twitter accounts for old media establishments.

    This is typical thread I see among all those who condemn social media: Unfamiliarity breeds contempt.

  • Action Vs. Words (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Friday October 01, 2010 @03:07PM (#33763562) Homepage Journal
    This was a very good article and I would recommend reading the whole thing to anyone interested in the topic. It was well thought out and I want to give props to the author first and foremost.

    Now, that said, I think something that is missing from the article is a discussion of the 'action' factor that is used in protests and social movements today. Something I've noticed with a lot of online social movements is that they are very good at giving every member a means to voice their thoughts on a particular issue. This has granted a lot of people a large audience for their thoughts regarding any particular matter. As such, anyone can get up on their digital soap box (as I am doing now) and spout their claims to get a series of 'likes' or 'dislikes' from their large online audience. This has a very nice effect on the speaker, making them feel like they are taking part in something important and big. However, the reason many of these online causes do not effect as much change as someone might initially think is because that seems to be where all of the action stops. Social media has given folks a means to express their opinion without backing anything up with action (I do draw an arbitrary line here that distinguishes talk from action).

    The author of this article makes a fine summary of the American Civil Rights movement back in the 60's. Something that he fails to address when summarizing these movements, however, is that they had long lasting consequences on society as a whole. The bus boycott actually damaged the economic stance of the bus company being boycotted. The Southern sit-ins prevented the businesses where they took place from earning much cash off of white customers. The action taken by those who participated in the Civil Rights movement went beyond mere words. They actually cost their opponents something valuable. This is something that online social media movements do not do. The folks pillaging Darfur and its inhabitants don't give a damn about the 1.2 million Facebook users that want to help Darfur. Those Facebook users aren't damaging their opponents in any way. They are passively sitting around, voicing their dissent through words or micro-donations, and patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Meanwhile, those that are committing atrocities in Darfur are being allowed to work, as normal, without any outside interference. Thus, nothing will change. There is no perturbation to the status quo.

    The reason the Iranian case was somewhat different is because there really were protesters in Tehran marching and having rallies. That's great. However, those rallies did not cost the Iranian politicians anything of value. Standing around and complaining, even in large numbers, did not prevent the vote-smearing that was going on. Thus, nothing changed. the Iranian protesters came closer to afflicting change that the Darfur FB users because they actually organized and tried to do something. However, they did not damage anything of value to those in favor of the status quo.

    So I would say that if anyone really wants a revolution over a particular issue, not only is hierarchical organization important (as discussed in the fine article), but also, those organizing the protest (be it through social media or any other medium) must, necessarily, find a way to deprive their opponents of something valuable over a long span of time. That said, for issues close to us 'dotters, I would say that simply commenting on related stories is not enough. If we really want the MAFIAA to fall for good, we need to deprive them of something they value. If we want politicians to stop acting like corrupt douchebags, we need to go beyond writing letters to them and complaining. We need to organize and cost them something of value. If we want net neutrality to be implemented, we need to find a way to deprive all throttling ISPs from getting something of value (customers, money, new technology, something).

    At least, that's my two cents.
  • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@ w u m pus-cave.net> on Friday October 01, 2010 @03:08PM (#33763572)

    Whatever else you may think about the Tea Party, their initial protests were organized through the blogosphere (and mostly still are), and it would be foolish to deny that they've had some effect politics. Because of this, they lack a centralized leadership structure, and it will be curious to see if they can survive their own success.

    • by 0111 1110 (518466)

      Whatever else you may think about the Tea Party, their initial protests were organized through the blogosphere (and mostly still are),

      Unfortunately by using the blogosphere, whatever that is, for organizing they are excluding the older generations of libertarian-minded who do not have facebook or twitter accounts. I am a libertarian and would even be willing to pick up a gun and fight for freedom, but I don't do facebook or twitter. I thought the 'Tea Party' was just a derogatory expression referring to Libertarians or quasi-libertarians. Now I see that they are some kind of quasi-libertarian group.

      Also, I thought MySpace->Facebook was

      • by bucky0 (229117)

        I'm sorry, but that entire post is a giant cop-out, wrapped up in an air of "I'm too important for facebook"

        If you don't have facebook, whatever, there's a lot of people that don't. That's no big deal one way or another.

        But, you claim "I am a libertarian and would even be willing to pick up a gun and fight for freedom" then immediately follow it up with "but I don't do facebook or twitter"

        You have a slashdot account so you can spend time talking (semi) anonymously with people about (in the long run) pretty

  • Effectively the article is saying that even if you use /b as your personal army, it doesn't matter, because you just promoted yourself a personal army of useless retards. =)
  • Oh yeah... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Syberz (1170343) on Friday October 01, 2010 @03:12PM (#33763628) Homepage

    Social media led revolution works swimingly...

    http://i.imgur.com/abXW9.png [imgur.com]

  • Weak Social Links? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mdrplg (680070)
    It seems to me that the quality of the social link of facebook and twitter are dependent on the quality of the social unit involved in the link. If the social unit is strong, effective and determined then the use of these tools will necessarily augment their effect. If the social unit is weak and transitory then the effect of the tools will be weak and transitory.
  • by taustin (171655) on Friday October 01, 2010 @03:28PM (#33763804) Homepage Journal

    Revolution/mass movement/polictical action and social media aren't particularly related. Social media is a tool, not a goal, and not a method. There's nothing inherent to Twitter that prevents it from being used by well organized groups as another (and easier to use) tool to get the word out.

    The internet has the effect of lowering the bar to entry in to a lot of things. It is cheaper and easier to start up a company with a world wide market, it is cheaper and easier to rant incoherently on your pet peeve to lots of people, and it's easier to communicate political ideas to people who share them.

    That means that more people will do all those things. One can self-publish a book through Amazon without a real publisher. One can get one's fifteen minutes (or even more) with a free blog. And one can start a political movement. And most of the people doing all those things because the internet makes it so easy will do it poorly. That is the nature of lowering the bar.

    However, none of that will interfere with the efforts of those who know what they're doing in the first place. Those who would have succeeded in the pre-internet age will succeed now, not because the new tools exist, but because they're smart enough to figure out how to use them. And those who were too incompetent and clueless in the pre-internet world to get in to the game at all will fail now, not because the new tools are flawed, but because they don't know what to do with them.

    Having a paint brush doesn't make you Michaelangelo, even if it's a computer controlled pneumatic hammer, and having a ball point pen, or even a word processor and printer, doesn't make you Shakespeare. But if you are Michaelangelo or Shakespeare, having that pneumatic hammer or word processer won't make you any less a genius.

  • Social networks are great at disseminating ideas and information, but nothing beats face time to motivate or sell someone on an important decision. I'm not going to take an action with real implications for making my life harder (like getting arrested at a demonstration, or 'direct action') based on something I've been sent online. But I might if someone I respect sits down and talks with me, and sells me on it.

    Online discussion of issues is important, but real life follow through is essential.

  • File under DUH (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Miseph (979059) on Friday October 01, 2010 @03:32PM (#33763862) Journal

    Yeah, last I checked, twitter still lacks the ability to project bullets.

    At least in America, there will be no bloodless revolution, and anything that pretends to be such is clearly a sham.

  • So you're saying only and organization like Fox News with a figurehead like Glenn Beck could lead to really real social change? I for one DON'T welcome our new overzealous extremist overlords.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      I think his real point is that Glenn Beck won't do it either. "Media," old or new, isn't sufficient. If you want a revolution you've got to hit the pavement and convince people face to face. You can use the media to gather a halo of weak supporters around your cause, but they're mostly for show.

  • I agree that social media like facebook, twitter, and even blogs promotes weak social ties.

    Anybody remember BBSs? Back before the Internet got big?

    Most of the boards back in the day had close-nit groups. The kinds of people who met on the board, then got to know each other well enough to trust each other and possibly meet in real life.

    Fast forward to today, and the old style message boards have been replaced by a "wall" and "pokes." There are tons of content, but it's all shallow and breezy. Maybe moder

  • Facebook and twitter and the internet are ways to send information over landlines and airwaves. To hype them into something "revolutionary," is to make the same mistake that caused the first internet bubble.

    They are powerful communication tools though, because they facilitate encryption and transfer of huge amounts of data.

    The civil rights movement is a bad analogy. The NAACP and the SCLC never assumed power or tried to assume power. Their primary objective was to shame the rest of American society into

  • Um... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Friday October 01, 2010 @03:53PM (#33764124) Journal

    . In contrast, a loose, social-media style network wouldn't have sustained the year long campaign.

    TeaParty

    Q.E.D

    I'm not commenting on the validity of the TeaParty movement at all, I'm just saying that it seems to be counter to what the author just said. It is shunned by the MSM and derogatorily referred to as "teabaggers" by many. Yet in spite of the vitriol against it, has sustained for well over a year. And even if you don't like it, you need to admit it is a juggernaut that is completely changing the political landscape. Even (R) people are running scared.

    On a side note, thank you California voters for choosing two complete dumb turds for Governor and two more twits for Senate. I'm sure glad I vote third party.

    • Re:Um... (Score:5, Informative)

      by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:31PM (#33764620)

      . In contrast, a loose, social-media style network wouldn't have sustained the year long campaign.

      TeaParty

      Q.E.D

      I do not think that means what you think it means.

      I'm not commenting on the validity of the TeaParty movement at all, I'm just saying that it seems to be counter to what the author just said

      The "Tea Party" movement, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was started and sustained by a top-down organization. Unlike the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the organization is an extremely well-funded group of the extremely wealthy industrialists, with major media support, from the very beginning -- the "Tax Day Tea Party" protests in April 2009 that were the beginning of the movement were organized and funded by corporate lobbying groups and actively promoted by Fox News, and the movement continues to be funded heavily through the same corporate lobbying groups and promoted by Fox News.

      So, no, the validity of the Tea Party movement aside, its existence is absolutely not a counterpoint to the argument that a loose, social-media style network couldn't have sustained a year-long campaign similar to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, because the Tea Party movement isn't sustained by a loose, social-media style network.

      • by dazedNconfuzed (154242) on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:31PM (#33765328)

        The "Tea Party" movement, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was started and sustained by a top-down organization.

        To the contrary, nothing like it. There is no top-down organization. Anyone claiming or imputed to be a leader thereof assuredly isn't. Insofar as big names, leadership, and funding occurs, that is only because there is such a groundswell of resentment toward the federal government that some will inevitably make use thereof.

        I've been following, and part of, the movement for well before any alleged organization started. The "Tax Day Tea Party" was in fact a viral meme, a very popular idea that many were looking for. Many people suggested marching on Washington DC 4/15/09 - not because of some top-down organization, but because like-minded people could contact each other and say "hey, wouldn't it be great to march on Washington DC 4/15/09" - "yeah, I'm there if you are". Deep pockets participated because it was obvious participation was worthwhile. Outsiders saw those deep pockets as organizers because they want to find and vilify organizers of such a movement. It has sustained for way over a year (longer than you realize) not because it's a fad, but because millions of like-minded people were finally able to contact and coordinate each other thru social media networking - people who really do believe in Tea Party type views, and won't be giving up on their opinions any time soon.

        The Tea Party is the kind of grassroots, high-tech, anarchistic, viral-meme, spontaneous-organization happening /. & Wired types have been predicting for some time. Just pisses a lot of 'em off that it was the "right wing" that actually did it.

  • Ecuador!? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:00PM (#33764226)

    Malcolm Gladwell is wrong. The 4000 civilian protesters who gathered outside of the Police Hospital in Quito where President Correa was being held hostage by rioting Police were at least partially organized through twitter. When your national media all shut down or provide no information, twitter, as it did in Iran, and Honduras, became one of the few viable sources of outside information and coordination. Twitter and SMS messages are what brought those 4000 protesters into confrontation with the rioting police. They most certainly did put their lives on the line, and one of them was killed by the police, and at least 37 injured.

  • Larger problems. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:02PM (#33764250)

    I think the problem is that by tweeting about something people think they've done their job. It's the equivalent of sticking all those ribbons on cars.

    "I've devoted 30 seconds between fun and games to think about something important."

    But honestly, I think it's more of a symptom of larger problems. Despite everything people piss and moan about Americans, and the developed world in general, by and large have it pretty good. There's a constant stream of entertainment and shiny toys. This stuff is the adult equivalent of a pacifier. And a lot of what seems to get people upset is the fact that they can't have more of it, or more time to enjoy it. I'm convinced we're living in an era where people don't want to be responsible for anything. They'll happily go to the government for all their needs, be it giving up rights for security or expecting handouts of every kind. So why expend any effort on actually doing something for yourself?

    I also suspect that politics have gotten so polarized and fear-mongering so rampant because that's the only way people will pay any attention at all.

Passwords are implemented as a result of insecurity.

Working...