In October 2010, Malcolm Gladwell published an article in the New Yorker entitled “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted“. In the article, he rejects the idea that social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook will be agents of change that will inspire repressed people around the world to rise up in protest. He talks at great length about how active defiance – the kind that puts individuals at risk – requires deep commitment and strong ties to other passionate people. Despite all of the attention Twitter received during the Iranian protests, he argues that social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are built on networks of loose ties. People may be casually interested in what others are saying and click a “like” button, but this is not the type of engagement that will lead people to go put themselves at risk for the sake of an idea:
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.
Gladwell is right that strong-tie relationships were a crucial part of the Civil Rights Movement, and is a crucial part of any organizing effort. But he misses the fact that all strong ties start as weak ties, and that even weak-tie relationships can spur action within and between strong-tie communities.
Lots of the people who would have normally been satisfied with just following the updates on Facebook and Twitter suddenly did not have this connection, and so they found no way of being part of this movement except by going out on the streets. So I actually think that cutting off the Internet helped the movement on the real ground and on the street become bigger.