Professor John Proctor
September 16, 2013
Gladwell tries to make the case that social media is actually detrimental to invoking major change by the way of protest. The crux of Gladwell’s essay is social media doesn’t organize, or motivate the same way that protests of yester-year. “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation require.” Essentially Gladwell is arguing that it’s easy to get involved in something on Facebook or Twitter but there’s less of a chance you’ll be passionate about it or willing to put yourself at risk for it.
Gladwell largely references the civil rights movement as the model for a successful non-violent protest. He explains the process and ordeal students and protesters in the south had to deal when fighting for civil rights in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He explains how only four of them started with a sit in at a restaurant that eventually grew day by day to hundreds of people. He eventually expanded his argument to reveal the dangers of working in the south as a volunteer or a protester. There was rule to never drive alone or at night, a reality most famous immortalized in the film Mississippi Burning. Instead of giving a modern day equivalent of brave protests by pointing to the Arab spring, he dismissed social media’s role in that phenomenon by claiming that anyone of importance or relevance to the revolutionaries or protesters wasn’t going to be tweeting in English and that the news media was using twitter because none of them have foreign journalists in these areas to report on, an issue discussed in this weeks On the Media. Instead his grand example of a successful social media campaign was returning a stolen phone to it’s owner.
The real issue surrounding social media activism in my opinion was a point that Gladwell doesn’t go that far into. “The civil-rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also, crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline. The N.A.A.C.P. was a centralized organization, run from New York according to highly formalized operating procedures. At the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the unquestioned authority.” Social media makes it easy to participate but difficult to lead. The most recent example would be the Occupy Wall Street movement. It was a social media campaign that got millions to participate across the country but without a centralized leader and authority, the movement was directionless and subject to attacks from the outside and slowly the movement was slowly chipped away at until it’s lasting effect was a couple months on people’s Facebook timelines.