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In his article, “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted”, Malcolm Gladwell offers harsh critiques of the superficial relationship between social media and social change. Gladwell writes, “social media cannot provide what social change requires” (Gladwell, 315). Gladwell argues that social change requires “strong ties” and “a level of hierarchy organization” in which social media, comprised of networks built of “weak ties”, cannot support. Gladwell makes compelling arguments that most are willing to agree with. However, Gladwells arguments present two options, “strong ties” vs. “weak ties” and “hierarchy organizations” vs. “networks”, giving the impression that only one of the options may be the case, never both. Whether or not it’s “strong ties” or “weak ties” , “hierarchy organizations” or “networks”, social change requirements should be based on endless options. As long as all options are exhausted, the goal of effective social change can be reached.
As Gladwell emphasizes the value in “strong ties” he also belittles the value in “weak ties”. According to Gladwell, “The platforms of social media are built around weak-ties” (Gladwell, 319). In understanding Gladwell’s argument of “strong-ties”, he reveals a pattern that shows up over and over again in social changes throughout history. In his example of the four African-American college boys of the Greensboro sit-ins, Gladwell emphasizes their “strong-tie” relationship stemming from being friends in high school and buddies in the dorms at A. & T. College. Gladwell writes, “the more friends you had who were critical to the regime the more likely you were to join the protest” (Gladwell, 319). Gladwells argument of social activism benefiting from “strong ties” is understandable. There is always going to be that inner core of tightly bound people, nothing happens without “strong ties”.
However, nothing spreads without “weak ties”. Most people have more associates than committed friends, thus meaning, “weak ties” have value in numbers. For example, if I were looking for a job, I would give my resume to both my close connections and my associates to assist me in sending them to various companies. While my close connections would go to greater lengths of helping me than my associates, I would have a greater chance in getting a job through my associates do to their volume. The more people who casually engage for a cause, the more opportunities there are to get people involved.
Though some of the people on social media may not have a strong commitment to each other doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t have a strong commitment to the movement. Given the fact that people who aren’t committed to a cause can’t “like” their way to a better world on social media, doesn’t mean that committed activists are unable to utilize social media effectively. Gladwell believes that what passes for activism on social media is superficial. Gladwell states, “Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice” (Gladwell, 321). Gladwell makes a profound argument, some campaigns on Facebook that request people to press the “like” icon for various causes simply does not play a key role in effective social activism.
However, social media has played a significant role in the hands of people committed to social change. Without social media, Barack Obama would not be the President of the United States. The power of social media during the elections was its ability to organize thousands of passionate people to work together for change. Therefore, when in the hands of committed activists, social media enables greater opportunities for individuals to recruit, organize, and implement plans to work towards the common goal of social change.
Gladwell asserts that effective social change requires a “hierarchy level organization” to implement rules and procedures, while social media, “built of networks”, lacks accountability and proper leadership. Gladwell writes, “Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals…How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?” (Gladwell, 323). Although Gladwell makes a fascinating argument, I cannot accept his overall conclusion that because networks lack leadership they are doomed to fail. The occupy movement, as a case in point, was nonetheless a perfect demonstration of social media’s incredible role in activism. The international protest movement against social and economic inequality had no official leaders, and yet, still had many successes. One of the many successes took place on November 5th, 2011 when occupy held its first National Bank Transfer Day. They encouraged individuals to transfer money from their accounts with major corporate banks to local credit unions. Over $50 million dollars were withdrawn and accounts were closed with big banks. Rather than placing the movement in the hands of few, the activists empowered one another to be involved and together they shared the responsibilities.
Gladwell makes a compelling argument of “strong ties” and “hierarchical organization” being the two requirements of social change. However, social change requires so much more than what Gladwell declares. Social change requires an activist to utilize all options to recruit, plan, and implement actions towards change. The power of the people coming together to make a difference is far greater than what it used to be because of social media. No matter if it’s low-risk activism or high-risk activism, the goal is social change.