First off, I started this discussion by reading these (required) articles:
- Malcolm Gladwell: “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted”
- Clay Shirky: “The Political Power of Social Media”
- Clay Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell: “From Innovation To Revolution: Do Social Media Make Protests Possible?”
The questions we were asked to consider were as followed:
- Who do you think is “right” about social media’s role: Shirky? Gladwell? Both? And why?
- How much do you think technology matters when it comes to politics in general and revolutionary change in particular? Do you think the revolution in Tunisia would have happened without social media? How about Egypt?
- Are there potential “dark sides” or problems with the role social media is playing? What are they?
”Who do you think is “right” about social media’s role: Shirky? Gladwell? Both? And why?”
I think both of these men are right. In my opinion, the role of social media is a meld of their representations of it. Shirky shows that social media can have an impact on activism and society. He gives examples of ways it has allowed people to achieve their goals, such as the trial of President Estrada in the Philippines. Gladwell, on the other hand, takes the opposite view. To him, social media isn’t an effective type of activism. While he admits that it allows broader and fast communication, and says that it occasionally assists in activism, he doesn’t really give it credit.
The way I see it, social media plays an important role, but does have a lesser, overall impact on situations. I believe that Shirky is right in believing that it can have an effect—it certainly does! Information about causes and events spread so quickly with the technology we have now. Someone can have a post or event on facebook and get friends to join, who get their friends to join, which turns it into something substantial that it may have not been without it. I think it’s power will grow as time goes on, because it is what this generation and future generations use and rely on. That being said, Gladwell made a very good point about strong-ties and weak-ties. Social media is an abundant source of weak-ties. Will I like a page to show support for something? Sure, it takes no effort and little commitment. Will I go downtown after a hard day at work and spend hours holding a protest sign for something? No—unless (and here’s the key) it’s something I am really passionate about. It is true that people are going to be more demanding, more influential, over something they really care about. Social media doesn’t always deal with that. It hosts a lot of weak-tie events. However, I still think that has an impact.
Let’s say I had a cause..hmm, maybe, I wanted to raise awareness for a local animal shelter, for example. I could gather my close friends, especially those who love animals as I do, and we could put together some fund raisers. Maybe we could plan to spend a few weekends handing out flyers or approaching businesses such as Petco for donations. We would surely get a little reward for our efforts, without social media. However, if we had also advertised our efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and the like, who knows what other sort of exposure we could have had? It isn’t like we would receive thousands or even hundreds of dollars for our cause, but awareness is important too. More people would see the shelter and be thinking about it. Maybe someone would feel an urge to help, but couldn’t afford to donate money, so they decide to donate some volunteer time at the shelter instead. Maybe a friend of a friend on Facebook saw a post and decided to go to that shelter to finally purchase a family dog they had been thinking about getting. When you are trying to make a difference in the world, even small things count. While I agree with Gladwell that social media isn’t the way to get strong, passionate people to physically go out and change something, I agree with Shirky who believes that it does have some form of an impact.
“ How much do you think technology matters when it comes to politics in general and revolutionary change in particular? Do you think the revolution in Tunisia would have happened without social media? How about Egypt? “
I think technology matters a lot in politics and revolutionary change, because it involves large numbers of people quickly. Information is so quickly and easily shared that it becomes very easy to make a mistake and ruin a political career, or makes it easier to advertise yourself and your campaign. Revolutions are funny things; they have been happening as long as we’ve all been around. If it comes to the point where a country is on the verge of it, it is likely to happen no matter what—social media or no. Therefore, I definitely believe the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt would have happened without social media. But the more people involved in an event, the more factors there are, and therefore, the more things that are changed. Social media allowed other countries to be watching, talking, and interacting as everything was happening, which had an impact on the situation. I think the impact it has on events such as these will grow as time goes on and more generations are born into the use of social media.
”Are there potential “dark sides” or problems with the role social media is playing? What are they?”
There is a flip side to every situation. Social media is built of people—all types of people, who can say and do whatever they choose. There is no law saying that everything that is put online has to be good and the truth. People can use social media to lie and persuade, to cause change because of untrue reasons. But people can do that in real life as well. The downfall of social media is quite similar to the benefit: it’s fast, it hosts a lot of connections between people, and it’s easy. You can reach much of the world in a few short minutes. It’s a useful tool, both in the right and wrong hands.