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Conscientization, Meet Twitter

“I asked every student I met what the first day of the sitdowns had been like.

The answer was always the same:  It was like a fever, everyone wanted to go.”  Michael Walzer in Dissent

I recently read an article by Malcom Gladwell in The New Yorker.  The premise of the article was that social media can’t provide what social change has always required:  personal commitment and strategy.  He challenges the fact that ‘the new tools of social media have reinvented social activism.’  Gladwell contends there are major differences between on ground and online activism.

1)      Strong-tie vs. weak tie phenomenon.  This refers to the personal commitment and connection to the activism.  When you have personal ties to the people involved in the cause, you are more likely to take the high risk needed to affect change.  Gladwell contends that social media are built around weak ties – you are ‘followed’ by people you haven’t ever met.  He says this commitment “will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.”

2)      Structure and hierarchy.  Gladwell feels that high-risk activism requires organization, precision and discipline to sustain its goal over the long haul.  Social networks are, by their own nature, lacking in hierarchy and authority.  “How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?”

Gladwell states that “Activism that challenges the status quo – that attacks deeply rooted problems – is not for the faint of heart.” I can only imagine that combining the two – strong and wide ties with structure and broad-based constituency –  only has potential to affect greater change.  My hope is that we’ll be trying it to affect meaningful educational change very soon.  Conscientization,  meet Twitter.


2 Responses to “Conscientization, Meet Twitter”

  1. So do you agree / disagree with Gladwell? I don’t see it as an either/or when we discuss activism. I think social media can fuel and support on-ground activism…many examples of this…e.g., the RedShirt movement in Bangkok. I would agree with the concern however, that virtual activism (via twitter for example) is not as engaged as the on the ground activism…and would think it a huge loss if they were conflated in the minds of young folks.

  2. I don’t think that online social media can replace in person, either, but perhaps it can complement it. Recall the twitter effect in the Iran elections? I know it’s been banned there now, (I think). Perhaps that’s becuase of the effectiveness of the activism that resulted. I see that various online media to continue the dialogue, and perhaps expand the dialogue. What is the effect of a free trailer available on YouTube? For me, the question of filtering the maze is significant. I am happy to explore bookmarking tools such as delicious to help in this task.

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