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[liberationtech] Cyber-sceptics wanted!

Adam Fisk adamfisk at
Thu Mar 3 23:19:59 PST 2011

Thank you for this, Michael. While I personally spend most of my days
working on technology I hope to be "liberating" in some way, I've
found the boundless conversation about Facebook and Twitter in this
debate honestly nauseating in light of the complete lack of discussion
surrounding widespread unemployment, poverty, and hunger in these
countries. Not only does that discussion exaggerate and glamorize our
own tenuous role in these global shifts, it also glosses over the
sobering realities of day to day life outside the blogosphere and our
lattes. Cairo ignited because it was a miserable place to be a human
being for the vast majority of the population on many levels. Did
Facebook provide a match? No question. But did it provide the same
match in Yemen with 2% internet penetration? Clearly not. Good old
fashioned suppressed populations with rising expectations rings true
to me, but it just doesn't make as good a sound bite.


On Thu, Mar 3, 2011 at 3:34 AM, Michael Gurstein <gurstein at> wrote:
> Since others are quoting from their blogs perhaps I'll quote from mine...
> "There are current disputes within the blogisariat about the role and
> significance of social media and other technologies in animating, enabling,
> and empowering the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.  This discussion, which
> moves back and forth between techno-philes and techno-skeptics,
> techno-optimists and techno-pessimists is however, mainly of interest to
> those who are interested, that is the blogisariat and their followers.
> It may be more useful however, to look forward rather than back; to identify
> what, from the experience of these revolutions and interwoven as they were
> (to a greater or lesser degree) by social media and information technology,
> might be of value as these countries go forward.  What have they learned
> from their recent experiences that can be applied as they respond to the
> very real social and economic issues—youth and adult unemployment, poor
> quality and limited access to public services, rising food costs, lack of
> opportunities for democratic participation—which ultimately provided the
> motivation for the masses whose commitment to the movement ensured its
> success."
> I go on to attempt a first order response to my rhetorical question at
> and somewhat earlier specifically on Tunisia
> and in a somewhat parallel discussion to talk about
> the effects of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia on social media
> . (My apologies as I know that this will be a
> duplication for some of you.)
> Best,
> M
> -----Original Message-----
> From: liberationtech-bounces at
> [mailto:liberationtech-bounces at] On Behalf Of Giuseppe A.
> Veltri
> Sent: Thursday, March 03, 2011 7:44 AM
> To: Yosem Companys
> Cc: Liberation Technologies
> Subject: R e: [liberationtech] Cyber-sceptics wanted!
> Very nice and informative discussion, thank you.
> As an observer not directly involved this field of research, I would say
> that there is some evidence to sustain that weak ties are important. In the
> so in cial psychology literature, it refers to the  so-called  process of
> ''silent conversion'' . The paradigm of minority influence (Moscovici, 1976;
> Maass and Clark, 1984; Mugny and Perez, 1991) demonstrates how established
> norms change under dissent and introduces the distinction between active and
> passive deviance. Consistent active minorities inform the majority and lead
> them to reconsider their take on the world. Organized minorities influence
> by inducing a latent conversion among the majority but miss out on the
> credit for achieving this: the ‘sleeper effect’ ensures that we remember the
> message but not its source. This all suggests two different processes of
> social influence: majorities achieve conformity in public, while dissent
> might continue in private; minorities make us rethink privately, while we
> still conform publicly, but maybe only for a while. Minorities induce a
> rethink about the world (informational processes), while majorities make us
> consider others (normative processes).
> Thank you
> Giuseppe
> Ref.
> Moscovici, S. (1976) Social Influence and Social Change. London: Academic
> Press.
> Mugny, G. and Perez, J. A. (1991) The Social Psychology of Minority
> Influence. Cambridge: CUP.
> -----------------------------------------
> Giuseppe A. Veltri
> personal email ga.veltri at
> work email Giuseppe.Veltri at
> web
> On 3 March 2011 00:14, Yosem Companys <companys at> wrote:
>> Pranesh,
>> My answers below.
>>> Weak ties 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.
>> In the absence of empirical evidence, we can't say this categorically.
>>  Where's the data?  It's a good hypothesis though, and I agree with it, as
>> my quotes from McAdam/Diani's work suggested.
>>> I agree that weak ties are important.  (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).)
>> How weak ties become strong ties, and vice versa, is rarely studied
>> empirically in movements & revolutions because it's so difficult to collect
>> good data on the phenomenon.  Longitudinal net analysts such as Powell,
>> Strang, Tuma, Aral, Wasserman, Faust, Carley, etc. use event history
>> analysis & hazard models to try to get at this.
>> Some of the best work I've seen examines dynamic tie formation & change
>> qualitatively.  For example, I wrote a working paper a few years back
>> showing how weak ties became strong ties in 9/11.  The firm in question lost
>> 90% of its staff, and so it called on its former employees (then weak ties,
>> but previously stronger ties when they worked as employees) to come back and
>> work for it; hence, strong -> weak -> strong again.
>>>  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.
>> Most, if not all, successful political advocacy requires weak ties.  All
>> social network analyses I've seen support Granovetter's original contention
>> that information diffusion is not possible in the absence of weak ties.
>>  Granovetter showed this was true in the context of finding jobs.  But
>> scholars of movements & revolutions have found this to be the case there,
>> and so have organization scholars in all sorts of organizations.  It's a
>> pretty robust social and political finding.
>> This is the problem with Gladwell's argument.  He claims categorically
>> that offline (or as you say, IRL) movements use strong ties while online
>> movements use weak ties.  This is just patently false based on the
>> sociological and political data.
>> Any movement based solely on strong ties -- whether online or offline --
>> will not be a movement at all.  It will be a densely, interconnected, closed
>> group that speaks to no other networks, like a family.  As Burt suggested,
>> you need weak ties to serve as brokers to new knowledge.  Information
>> diffusion a la contagion and epidemics not possible without weak ties.
>>>>       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.
>> Without empirical evidence, I don't see how we can categorically say
>> anything about the relationship between social media advocacy and tie
>> formation & change.  We can speculate on it, but we don't have any grounded
>> evidence to advance an argument.  But empirical research on
>> movements/revolutions does show organizing requires strong ties, but
>> marketing/advertising/PR -- the basis of movement growth -- requires weak
>> ties.
>>> 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
>>> (focusing on its weaknesses).
>> I agree with the comments on the Twitter list @Liberationtech, where I
>> believe Jillian also participated in a discussion about how we need more
>> exchange between non academic media observers and academics.  Academics have
>> grounded evidence to share with non academics to produce fascinating
>> practitioner books like Gladwell's The Tipping Point.  Non academics often
>> come up with new ideas, but have to be careful not to present them as
>> empirical evidence.  These are simply propositions or working hypotheses
>> that academics should explore further.
>> I think it's dangerous to make non grounded arguments about social media
>> in the context of movements/revolutions, especially since high-risk activism
>> employing such advice could cost lives.
>> Best, Yosem
>>> - Pranesh
>>> --
>>> Pranesh Prakash
>>> Programme Manager
>>> Centre for Internet and Society
>>> W: | T: +91 80 40926283
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Adam Fisk | |

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