Current social media have reinvented activism. It has given power to the powerless to voice concerns. Malcolm Gladwell’s essay, Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, Gladwell explains why social media is not as glorious of a revolutionary tool as one might imagine.
He refers back to the spread of the 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina sit-in, where four college students spurred the participation of seventy thousand students across several states. Gladwell uses this example because it took place before current social media existed and still spread like wild fire, without the use of Twitter.
In 2009 ten thousand protesters came together in Moldova to protest the Communist government. This was called the Twitter Revolution because of how the word was spread to “organize the protest.” Other examples are given that also glorify Twitter. Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security advisor, went as far as to call for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Piece Prize for it’s participation in social activism.
In Gladwell’s counter argument he cites a Stanford scholar who points out Twitter’s minuscule significance in the actual organization of protests by stating that very few Twitter accounts in Moldova even existed during the time of the event. Twitter’s role is better classified as gaining awareness rather than gaining real life participation. There is this surmounting, “outsized enthusiasm for social media,” as Gladwell puts it.
Twitter will never be able to serve as more than a means of broadcasting because of the type of connections. The same is for all social media. The connections made through social media are small and less personal. They are networks that do not require strong ties with the people you connect with. The forwarding of emails is more effective than a retweet because of the strength of these ties. You are more likely to be closer to a person that you email on a day to day basis.
Another strong reason why Twitter will not yield real life results is because of fear. People are limited by their fear of the required involvement. This why Twitter will never motivate another Greensboro sit-in. People do not feel obligated to get involved in a protest over Twitter. They will retweet a picture of the protest spreading awareness but it is highly unlikely that they will be at the protest because of these small ties to the situation.
This is what Lierouw is talking about in her chapter “Getting People on the “Street”: Mediated Mobilization.” There is no success unless mobilization is translated to real world action. That is why Twitter will only be tweeting about the revolution.