Social Media's Weak Ties Cannot Lead To Social Change?
In social media, sometimes its difficult to see the forest for trees. More than often many of us (including myself) get caught up in numbers. We replace quality with quantity because social media has this inherent sense of puffing up one's ego based on amassing large followings. Weak ties or connections to many is not a bad thing as long as it can be kept in perspective.
Notable columnist for the New Yorker magazine and author Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point" highlights how some very little things can make a big difference.
However as many friends and followers one accumulates on Twitter and Facebook that far exceeds what we can achieve in the real world, according to Gladwell, "while there is strength in weak ties" those connections "seldom lead to high-risk activism."
While Gladwell's premise runs counter to what was perceived as the heightened activism that surfaced during last year's Iranian election protests and the so-called Twitter Revolution, Gladwell writes this off to "shoddy Western journalism" versus real activism. Perhaps this was a wake-up call for the media to learn about the new century's real-time monitoring system - but according to Gladwell it was not one that caused people to make any real type of sacrifice in the West.
From Gladwell's purview "older generations knew how to create real, palpable movements (while) younger generations simply know how to push buttons." David Helfenbein from The Huffington Post disagrees. He feels that today's zeitgeist has been elevated as a result of social media tools. He notes that Facebook groups mobilized the youth in this country to take on an active role in Obama's campaign and in the end Obama's election win according to Helfenbein was "one significant, high risk movement."
While I feel that both these thought-leaders have valid points, I think the distinction that needs to be made is how much time do we spend in the online versus real world. Yes, giving to a charity online might be a passive act versus marching in a rally on Washington, DC - but both are important. And since there is a major shift as to where we make the majority of our connections in the 21st Century, it's incumbent on us to use these new tools to communicate with our followings in new and productive ways.
If one has a point of view and can rally his followers online to listen to a clear and consistent voice over time, then social media is doing its job. Yes, perhaps there is a lot of dead weight in one's group of followers, but by broadening the net, I think the "cream does rise to the top." Connecting with thousands via social media versus dozens in the real world of the past is not hampering us from action. It's just another means to channel discussions.
Gladwell and Helfenbein have started the conversation. It's up to us to keep it going.