I wonder what Malcolm Gladwell is thinking tonight. Watching the crowds and the fireworks in Cairo celebrating the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year dictatorship, is he regretting being so adamant about the ineffectiveness of social media for bringing social change. In his now famous article : “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted.” Gladwell argues that social media is a weak tie network and so incapable of bringing genuine social change. He compares the kind of relationships needed to hold together the Civil rights movement in America in the 1960s which were strong tie relationships with the kind of relationships one has on facebook:
The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life
The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
Here’s some recommended reads – click on the images for more information. See also Social Media for Social Change where I argue “social media is a tool to seek the welfare of our cities by informing and strengthening a movement of grass roots committed communities” (My friend Richard has underlined this idea of social media as a tool / means rather than the ends of the revolution- when he comments that our attention should not be on the means of communication that supported the bravery of the Egyptian revolution.)