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10/06/2010 Another Malcolm Gladwell Reaction


Boy, nothing gets people more riled up than criticizing our beloved Facebook and Twitter. That's not quite right. Nothing gets people more riled up then questioning the amazing, transformative, revolutionary qualities of Facebook and Twitter. So when Malcolm Gladwell penned his article in the New Yorker positing that Social Networks are not a prime mover in causing revolutionary change, you could hear the howls from New York to New Delhi.

You can read some of the reactions here:
The Guardian
The Atlantic

I think Gladwell got it right, but not completely right.  For now, at least, there are no good examples of groups of motivated individuals changing the world starting from Twitter or Facebook. There may be in the future, but there are slim pickings right now. It pains me to read the rebuttal arguments trying to prove they do exist; it sounds weak and a little pathetic. 

For most of us, it makes sense logically that tight-knit, hierarchical groups have the leadership, motivation and impetus to take personal risks that true revolution requires. And it also makes sense that engaging on Twitter and Facebook is not the same thing. 

I'm fine giving this point to Gladwell.

Where I think he misses the mark is the impact social networks can have on the support and ultimate success of these revolutionary changes. If you look at big changes in the 1960's, such as the Civil Rights movement or the Vietnam war, I'd argue that the tipping point came once the major broadcast networks started showing the stories on their network news shows and voicing support to these protests. It was then that the political winds shifted. Without those winds, you can wonder whether there would have been a civil rights act, or whether Lyndon Johnson would have declined to run for President again. 

Walter20cronkite20desk
Therein lies the revolutionary power of social media: to shift the perception and support of all of us lazy revolutionaries who will donate $25 but don't really want to get our butts out of our computer chairs to march.

And, as Obama showed us, those lazy butts can help. They just can't drive and create the revolution.

What's wrong with that?

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