Malcolm Gladwell’s latest… because activism that challenges the status quo—that attacks deeply rooted problems—is not for the faint of heart strong relationships matter more than weak ones. However, the kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. Most of your 1,000 Facebook friends are weak relationships.
Gladwell also points out that because social networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals—If you want to take on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy.
…The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life. This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
…The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, 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. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.
Continue Reading @ the New Yorker also check out this Q&A session with Gladwell on this article.
If you’re interested in the positives of social media, you should check out The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change. Another read is the bible of the social media movement, Here Comes Everybody.
Malcolm Gladwell is the New York Times bestselling author of Blink:The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Outliers:The Story of Success, and What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures.