Redefining Activism

“The marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past—even a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of television and the Internet.”


These words articulated by Malcolm Gladwell in a 2010 article for The New Yorker describe our generation’s tendency to praise the communication of the day-especially social media-in shaping the course of history. Gladwell eloquently persuades the reader that social media’s role by activists in implementing change, particularly revolution, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Activism today can be seen in the case of the “Twitter Revolution” in Iran. Indeed, most of the tweets were coming from the West, in english.  Counter this with the sit-ins that helped spark the civil rights movement, in which individuals faced grave threat to physically stand up for what they believe in.  These days, one can make their facebook status a petition to stop puppy mills and they consider themselves an activist. Movements need some serious risk takers.  Another issue lies in the networking structure of social media, where decisions are based on consensus and there lies no central authority. Gladwell believes systemic change must be driven by a hierarchical organization capable of reaching consensus and setting goals.

Is Gladwell right? Yes and no. Yes, social media has redefined what we consider activism, what I like to call “activism for sissies.” I agree that systemic change, like a revolution, probably needs to be spearheaded by a hierarchical organization. But social media is a vital tool in amounting followers and communicating events.  It’ networking structure enables the sharpening, spreading and building of knowledge. Knowledge that can ignite a revolution.


One response to “Redefining Activism

  • briannasteinmetz

    I think Malcolm Gladwell makes a great point when comparing the “Twitter Revolution” to sit-ins for the civil rights movement, as it shows just how different activism is over social media. I think it has added another complexity to the concept of activism, as people consider posting on social media activism. Therefore, in order to avoid “slactivism” we must explain the true meaning of activism and separate social media from activism. Posting on social media is not activism, but rather it spreads the knowledge that may help to create activism.

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