Can you social network your way to revolution?
Sep 27th 2010, 20:56 by R.A. | WASHINGTONMALCOLM GLADWELL is generally quite good at brushing away complicating detailsand getting the big picture. But not always. His latest New Yorker HYPERLINK"http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all" piece, on the revolutionary power of social media, is one of thosenot always times.Mr Gladwell argues that social networking platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, arenot likely to be helpful in generating real social change, a la the American CivilRights movement. Why? He cites two key reasons. First, effective social movementsrequire sacrifice, which is built on strong bonds between people—the kind where youcan demand real participation from each other. Social networks, on the other hand,are good for building and maintaining thousands of weak relationships—the kindwhere you can get people to "like" your cause or re-tweet your message, but notshow up to an actual protest.Secondly, real social movements require hierarchical organisation to be effective—someone has to be strategising and coordinating. Social networks aren't hierarchical;they're networks. That makes them flexible and resilient, but not particularlystrategic or goal-oriented. And so, Mr Gladwell says, social networks will be usefulfor all kinds of things, but not for the really hard tasks involved in social change.Tyler Cowen HYPERLINK "http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/09/will-social-networks-boost-social-change.html" suggests Mr Gladwell maynot have this quite right.The point is well-taken but still activism of some kinds should go up. Loose tiesfavor campaigns to get out the vote and sign petitions; those developments canbring about many positive changes. Most unsettled issues in American politics odaywould not be well-served by organizing less cooperative confrontations, even if youperceive a great injustice. I believe that "making the existing social order" moreefficient, to use Gladwell's phrase, is positively correlated with many desirablereforms, as are the qualities of "resilience" and "adaptability." If we look at therecent experience in Iran, web mobilization seems to have encouraged -- notdiscouraged -- people from risking their lives for a cause.I think Mr Gladwell misses a number of crucial things. One mistake is to assumethat social media merely increases weak ties. In my experience, it strengthens tiesgenerally. Networks like Twitter and Facebook reduce the cost of minor interactions,which leads to more minor interactions. Mr Gladwell sees this and notes the rise in