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[liberationtech] Malcolm Gladwell on Traditional vs. Online Activism

Jillian York jyork at cyber.law.harvard.edu
Mon Sep 27 09:02:42 PDT 2010


I'm in the midst of blogging this, so don't want to give too much away (har
har), but...

I think the biggest problem with this piece is not Gladwell's line of
thinking that the media/State/etc have overblown Twitter as a revolutionary
tool (if you ask me, they have), but that he ignores the utility of social
media and digital (including mobile) tools as just that....tools for
activists.

Generally speaking, framing the use of digital tools as "digital activism"
can be problematic--as we've seen (and as I know you've documented, Mary),
traditional activism is enhanced by digital tools, sometimes greatly, but
solely digital activities are often hampered by weak ties.  I don't see
anything particularly effective about Darfur Facebook groups, aside from
that they draw attention to a cause (same goes for Twitter and the Iranian
elections), whereas various semi-successful campaigns over the past few
years to, for example, free jailed bloggers, were successful *because* they
drew upon existing networks.  Now, it goes without saying that anytime
Twitter and Facebook are involved, you will draw into the campaign people
who would not otherwise be interested, but isn't that true of the civil
rights movement as well?  My own mother was by no means an organizer in the
'60s (too young), but she most certainly joined in numerous marches on the
Mall.  Had she and thousands of others like her not done so, then such
marches would've most certainly been deemed less successful than they
actually were.  The media gloms onto organizing that involves masses, and we
know that media attention is (often, but not always) vital to a successful
campaign.  Thus, online tools that draw in the weakly tied folks to the
strongly tied ones are still important, if only to captivate the attention
of the masses.

Lest this turn into a rant, I'll end here :)

-Jillian

On Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 10:45 AM, Mary Joyce <marycjoyce at gmail.com> wrote:

> ... in the current* New Yorker*:
> http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all
>
> Some questions:
>
>    1. Gladwell draws an absolute distinction between the *strong ties* of
>    offline activism (example of the civil rights movement) and the *weak
>    ties* of online activism (examples of Darfur Facebook groups). Is this
>    an accurate distinction?
>    2. Gladwell reiterates the observation that offline activism is *
>    hierarchical* and strategic while online activism is *decentralized*and ad hoc.  Does this distinction doom online activism to failure or just
>    indicate a new mechanics of activism?
>    3. Gladwell argues that centralized and hierarchical protest movements,
>    like the civil rights movement, which "help us persevere in the face of
>    danger" and "promote strategic and disciplined activity" are unequivocally
>    more *effective* than a decentralized and networked movements.  Might
>    this statement not be true under repressive regimes?
>
> Mary
>
> --
> MARY C. JOYCE
> Founder | The Meta-Activism Project  | Meta-Activism.org
> "Digital Activism Decoded"  |  New Book Drops in Summer 2010
> Mobile | +1.857.928.1297
>
>
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-- 
Berkman Center for Internet and Society |
https://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/jyork
jilliancyork.com | @jilliancyork | tel: +1-857-891-4244
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