Came across an interesting article in the New Yorker, Small Change, by Malcolm Gladwell. At a high level, he puts forward the belief that social media cannot achieve what more conventional social change does. For instance, by “Like”ing something in Facebook, you cannot possibly achieve anything so notable as Sit-In could achieve during the civil rights movement in the 60s. Right? After all, what does a mouse-click do compared to what 4, 31, or 600 people could do at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina?
Among the multiple discussion-fodder pieces the article provides, I’ve chosen just one.
One argument would suggest that the reason is due to a lack of physical presence, a lack of risk to taking part in such activism. And, while I can understand the sentiment about social media providing a no-risk approach toward activism, I disagree. In at least as much as it’s not a cut-and-dry issue.
By indicating you ‘Like’ something, or by even venturing to comment publicly, you are staking your reputation to the event.
How much stronger might such activism be for something like the current Congressional debate, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," regarding homosexuality in the US military? If there were zero risk, I expect online, visible, participation may be much larger than it is. To comment, one way or the other (but particularly in the affirmative), is to publicly suggest something to everyone. That’s pretty risky, isn’t it?
Social media is having a very real impact on the real world. It makes it easier to participate, to put one’s reputation behind something. Yes, it’s lower risk physically, but how many more participate that could even hope to fit into the room where a "sit-in" is occurring? How much more money can be raised by folks in support of an event, drawing on the power of the crowd, than from the relative few who can participate physically?
My parting thought…social media is changing the real world if, only, by letting each of us see what so many others around us think. Think Tea Party? How many -more- actions are occurring now simply because there’s a perceived ‘support’ for something? Social media lets us see what is going on about us, to share our thoughts, and to show evidence of our actions should we chose to do so.
Changing the real world? I’ve staked my reputation behind my thoughts:). What are your thoughts? I’d like to hear.
ps: Would you please Facebook-Like my post today…couldn’t resist!