Malcolm Gladwell argues in "Small Change," a thoughtful piece in The New Yorker,
that social media networks are wonderful for diffusion of information,
interdisciplinary collaboration and working out the logistics dating and
commerce. But he contends they don't generate the deep commitment or
action that drive profound social change.
He argues, for example, that early civil rights activists, who faced danger to fight racism, had
deep devotion to a cause, strong ties to colleagues in the struggle,
and usually belonged to churches or other hierarchical organizations.
Their activities were carefully planned and formally organized and
participants risked their lives and livelihood. Signing up to support a
cause on Facebook, Gladwell says, is easy and involves no expense and
little risk. "It doesn't require that you confront
entrenched social norms or practices," he writes. In fact, he argues,
"social networks are effective at increasing participation-by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires."
Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, disagrees. In a response published in The Atlantic, Stone points to the social media program Ushahidi (it means Testimony in Swahili) that was used to rescue victims of violence
following the 2007 re-election of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and used
again in August to prevent illegal intimidation of voters who passed a
constitutional referendum aimed at preventing future violence. Stone also quotes Peking University Professor Hu Yong, who writes in "The Revolt of China's Twittering Classes" that Twitter provides "new possibilities for reshaping China's authoritarian regime." Yong maintains Chinese Twitter users lead the world in using social media for social revolution, "using
it for everything from social resistance, civic investigation, and
monitoring public opinion, to creating black satire, 'organizing without
organizations'," and mailing postcards to prisoners of conscience.
Sociologist Mark Granovetter first analyzed "The Strength of Weak Ties"
in his much cited essay, and Stone says Granovetter's theory does much
to explain the power of Twitter as a global information network.
Gladwell also pays tribute to Granovetter, and emphasizes weak ties are
the greatest source of new ideas and information. But he says weak ties
seldom lead to high risk activism. Click here for Gladwell's piece and here for Stone's piece. What do you think?
While many participants use social media casually, some highly motivated professionals use it with military precision. In "How Rep.Michele Bachmann Used Mobile Ads to Turn Beer and Corn Dogs Into Votes From Fair Folks," a Fast Company story by E.B. Boyd, political consultant Eric Frenchman explains
how he uses a "mobile surge" to get political advertising to specific
events where the highest impact is likely. Last summer, for instance, Bachmann's
team created a TV ad blasting her opponent's alleged support for taxes
on beer, corn dogs, and deep fried bacon. (The accuracy of the ad was
later challenged.) The consultant put the ad on YouTube
and created a mobile ad targeted to mobile phones within a 10 kilometer
radius of the fair grounds where people were likely to be tempted
bybeer and corn dogs. Frenchman says he has also used mobile surges
around locations of other events, such a Presidential visit to a certain
city, and he calls the tactic "wildly successful." The "click through" rate for phone ads is far higher than for desk top ads, he says, and phone ads cost far less.