Social Media and Revolution

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Looking at Twitter, Facebook and the Arab Spring through the eyes of Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky. How can journalists make sense of what social media are telling us about confusing situations far from home?

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Social Media and Revolution

  1. 1. Social media and revolution Or, what is the difference between Iran and Egypt?
  2. 2. Malcolm Gladwell • Author of “Tipping Point” and other bestselling books • Argued in New Yorker that social media do not foment revolutions • Wrote that Twitter and Facebook can’t substitute for real life
  3. 3. Hierarchies versus networks• Real social activism, like Woolworth’s sit-in, requires “strong ties”• Low-commitment causes, like Darfur, depend on “weak ties”• When there is danger, leadership and personal commitment are key
  4. 4. Twitter non-revolutions • Moldova had a “Twitter revolution” without Twitter accounts • Most Iranian “activists” tweeted in English rather than Farsi • “Slacktivism”: Social media work when they don’t demand too much
  5. 5. Clay Shirky • Author of “Here Comes Everybody” and other bestselling books • Argued in Foreign Affairs that social media can foster social change • Wrote that Twitter and Facebook supplement real-life activism
  6. 6. A potent organizing tool• Texting led a million people to demonstrate against Joseph Estrada• “Twitter revolution” in Moldova fueled ouster of Communist Party• Boston Globe’s exposé of sex-abuse scandal rocked Catholic Church
  7. 7. It’s complicated • Some attempts at social change will succeed and some will fail • A repressive regime can use social media as effectively as activists • Evgeny Morozov criticizes cyperutopians in “Net Delusion”
  8. 8. Egypt’s Facebook revolution• Google executive Wael Ghonim helped spark a revolution• “Hey @Gladwell, #Jan25 proved you wrong. Revolution can be a #Facebook event that is liked, shared & tweeted.”
  9. 9. Regime turns off Internet
  10. 10. Unexpected consequences • Social media can be used to provoke and to spark retaliation • Would “Innocence of the Muslims” be made without social media? • Rioters were neither reformists nor government oppressors
  11. 11. The Gandhi rule • Peaceful revolution only works when opponent has a conscience • Authoritarianism is more benign than totalitarianism • Mubarak was not Ahmadinejad — or Bashir al-Assad of Syria
  12. 12. Questions for journalists • How can we use social media to tell story of what is happening? • How can we, like @acarvin (left), tell truth from fiction? • How can we see social media as a tool, not as a miracle or a fraud?

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