In a 2010 New Yorker article, Malcolm Gladwell argued that social media does not strongly influence social change. He argues that true social activism requires strong social ties to a cause and to others fighting for that cause. Without these ties, no one will take the necessary risks. Social media, however, encourages weak ties. It allows us to be a part of a cause without actually doing anything. Therefore, it does not create social change and may actually distract from real movements.
In response to this article, the New York Times posted an online forum for discussion. Six experts weigh in on Gladwell’s assertions. Click here to read their arguments.
Some of the main points they discussed were:
- Movements not only need serious risk takers, they also need a large group of people sympathetic to the movement.
- It is harder for oppressive regimes to staunch online communication than the mass media.
- The internet provides new tools to inform, persuade, and communicate.
- Every demonstration can have a global audience. There is no mass media filter.
- The internet does for movements now what TV did for the civil rights movement. Without images of marches and police brutality, far fewer people would support the civil rights cause.
- One potential problem with virtual activism is that it may take the place of conventional activism which is far more involved and effective.