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[liberationtech] Cyber-sceptics wanted!

Zeynep Tufekci socnetres at
Wed Mar 2 13:34:26 PST 2011

Here are two posts I've written about this topic:

Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, Malcolm Gladwell has been useful in so far
as creating a public debate on this issue but otherwise quite unhelpful. His
essays are well-written which disguise the lack of data, understanding or
logic in his arguments. He is wrong about role of weak ties in social
movements, he is wrong about the relationship between week and strong ties,
he clearly has little to no understanding of social media and I don't know
what else to say besides, I dunno, ... Egypt? Tunisia?

That is not to say there is no room for debate on this topic. On the
contrary, I believe the hows and whys of the relationship between tools of
communication and collective action which also happen to be tools of
surveillance and propaganda, and social change is rich in detail and

As long as we don't get lost in point-counterpoint re:Gladwell's one essay
and change on the topic.


On Wed, Mar 2, 2011 at 4:28 PM, Pranesh Prakash <pranesh at>wrote:

> On Thursday 03 March 2011 02:29 AM, Yosem Companys wrote:
>> I don't often comment on the list, other than in moderator capacity...
>>  But
>> I completely agree with Jillian on Gladwell inaccuracy of weak ties vs.
>> strong ties argument.  Gladwell cites Granovetter, but Granovetter's work
>> clearly shows weak ties ->  info diffusion, which is what Mario Diani's
>> empirical work shows about movements.  In other words, tech or not, weak
>> ties fuel movements.
> They might act as fuel for movements, but they don't ignite them.  A core
> set of strong ties (whether offline or online, whether they knew each other
> from earlier or got to know each other well as part of the movement) is
> required.
>  Otherwise, you can't build critical mass and reach
>> tipping points, which Gladwell argues in his book summary of Granovetter
>> and
>> critical mass theory.  No one questions strong ties are needed to some
>> extent in early stage of activism, but as McAdam argues, strong ties early
>> on are required either for high risk activism or for securing resources.
>>  And from my own research on Dean&  Clark in 2004, these were bloggers&
>> forum organizers who had never met each other in person (they met AFTER
>> starting the netroots movement online), and yet they seemed to run virtual
>> organizations quite well on weak ties.
> I agree.  (And disagree to the extent that weak ties can get converted to
> strong ties: so Dean & Clark might have started out as weak ties, but that
> subsequently changed (even before meeting each other IRL).)  In fact, in a
> message on the Gladwell thread on this mailing list last year I'd written:
>  2. Even traditional political advocacy can actually be based on weak ties.
>>       Consider Amnesty International's letter-writing campaigns.  Very
>> strong, very political, requires little action, and is many times very
>> effective.  There are Amnesty posters from the '70s that have a
>> typewriter with the caption: "This is one of the most powerful weapons
>> in the fight for human rights".  And more recently: "Saliva saves lives"
>> and "Postman topples dictator".
>>       However, I mostly agree with him that social media-based advocacy is
>> largely based on weak ties, and that greatly limits it.  That having
>> been said, a large movement of weak ties can (and quite usually does)
>> have a small core of strong ties that keeps it going.  Thus social
>> media-based advocacy can help convert some of those with only weak ties
>> into those with stronger ties.  This is thus a case of one complementing
>> the other.  Thus, I agree with Mary that this distinction is one of
>> degree and of tendency, rather than absolute.
> In an offlist mail to Jillian I'd written:
> It seems to me we are both in agreement in terms of his argument and its
> weaknesses.  But while I conclude that for the most part I agree (focussing
> on its strengths), you conclude that for the most part you disagree
> (focussing on its weaknesses).
> - Pranesh
> --
> Pranesh Prakash
> Programme Manager
> Centre for Internet and Society
> W: | T: +91 80 40926283
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Zeynep Tufekci, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

zeynep at or @techsoc
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