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27 September 2010

Small Change: Twitter, Facebook, and social activism.
I can never get through a description of Greensboro without crying.
posted by serazin 27 September | 14:07
Have you ever gone to the Smithsonian American History? They actually have the counter itself, preserved there, with four stools. It does make you cry.
posted by Miko 27 September | 14:20
Very interesting. Thank you.

As for Greensboro, I'm always torn between a deep sense of shame for my country, and a huge amount of pride in it that we have moved so far past this history, due in great part to the courage of some of us and the consciences of more of us. We aren't home, but we've come a very long way.
posted by bearwife 27 September | 15:18
The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism.

Tea-bagger activism shows how false this article is. They are using social media to organize and motivate. Their Facebook friends and Twitter followers are primarily relatives and long-term friends, not hundred of strangers. They have a common interest and a common goal.
posted by Ardiril 27 September | 16:53
Ardiril, I was commenting on this on FB and made a similar point:

To be sure, I think this is a double-edged sword. Networks, like the design of the original internet, are less vulnerable to disruption, so may be useful for information dispersal (viz. the samizdat). I think they can also be motivating for things where there is baseline involvement, but someone doesn't know what to do next (think globally, act locally). I see this in e.g. my DIY feeds (and DIY magazines) -- enough tips aggregated together, I'll find one that helps me get into a project.

I suspect this may be playing a role in the increased acceptance of gay marriage: we've reached a tipping point where enough people are out that almost everyone knows someone who's gay (or at least queer). You're much less likely to support restricting the rights of someone you know personally. (I'm not saying social media per se are the cause, but they may play a role.) I think that the way people manage their personas online may affect how people perceive boundaries of discourse.

Gladwell somewhat approaches this at the end. For another more salient example, see the protests against Scientology by the group Anonymous (largely centered on 4chan and other goof-off fringe zones of the net). They were spontaneous, highl...y publicized, often camera-ready -- and had very little to do with the well-documented concerns of anti-Scientologists, and did nothing except briefly embarrass the organization. It's not clear that any of the protesters understood what they were protesting beyond someone who had been crowdsourced as deserving of ridicule. Weak ties indeed.

Gladwell also points to the per-capita fundraising issue. I've watched one organization struggle to get its FB feed-readers to vote so they can receive a grant. After long effort they began to move up the ranks, only to backslide. Even if t...hey win it, I wonder if online fundraising ultimately expands the pool of donated money at all or just directs it differently. So social media may not be what it was imagined. But then, we still have the question of what this can effectively do. Judging online activism by the standards of direct (street) action may be ill-advised. Obviously the online world has succeeded in creating some things of value, and did not invent telecommunications, either. Maybe we need to figure out something it's actually good at and do more of that.

I think it's also "good" at marketing, for certain values of good. I also think that there are ways it may have been effective at activism. I'd like some analysis of its role in the Tea Party movement, for example (whether or not that's rea...lly grass roots isn't necessarily relevant to this question, either). I think the right has been particularly consistent about providing means for its membership to believe they are participating in a movement for their own ends, whether that's been Free Republic or whatever, and social media have leveraged some of that, perhaps better than anything the left has tried. At the same time, the network effects of, say, e-mail forwards may encourage solipsism. Neda would not have been known worldwide w/o social media. But Neda did not bring down the government. People felt better for circulating her story, but they also had a very narrow view of what the conflict in Iran was about.

...another good example: Musicians have been benefiting from social media and using it well to increase their fans connection to them. There are probably restaurants and other examples. Magazines are reinventing themselves as phone apps. I think it's more a matter of someone hitting on the right formula or circumstances to leverage social media in the world of activism in a way that proves lasting results (as I've suggested, the Tea Party *may* partly qualify).
posted by dhartung 27 September | 18:14
Bicycle culture is growing fast and furious in Fort Worth, aided in no small part by facebook. That's where I found out about the Night Riders, Critcal Mass, Car-Free Fridays, etc. It's so much easier to find that small but passionate following of one activity or another, get them motivated and get them out.
posted by Doohickie 27 September | 20:46
They actually have the counter itself, preserved there, with four stools.

This would indeed make me cry my freaking eyes out.
posted by serazin 27 September | 22:57
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