The New Yorker has an interesting piece on the Twitter revolution by Malcolm Gladwell. Basically Gladwell says Twitter is not the glorious social revolution we think it is. He points to the incredible organizing ability of the civil rights movement that happened without social media and says that Twitter could never duplicate that effort.
He’s basically saying Twitter can’t change the world.
He argues that the civil rights movement was powered by strong connections and organized hierarchy, whereas Twitter relies on loose connections and no central authority. The resulting mob mentality results in chaos, not organized action of the type that overcame institutionalized racism.
I think Gladwell has a point.
But we miss the point if we think Twitter can’t make a difference. Twitter and other social media tools are not going to replace the hard work of revolutions. But they do enable different kinds of change.
For a simple example, look at Mark Horvath and the work he’s done with InvisiblePeople.tv. Or Shaun King’s work with TwitChange and aHomeInHaiti.org. Or my own Bald Birthday Benefit or the recent well we funded in Ethiopia. These were all projects powered in part by social media tools. While they’re not revolutionary, they are changing the world, one person at a time.
Twitter alone isn’t going to topple great social evils. But it can make a difference. And that’s something.
Sidebar: Reading Gladwell’s detailed stories of the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement makes me want to dive into that history. What a fascinating time.