Malcolm Gladwell and the Twitter backlash
Call it, as one Twitter commenter did, "The Slipping Point."
As news and reaction from the Tahrir Square protests have lit up social media sites, including Twitter, so too has a parallel stream of gloating from the Twitterati about how the historic demonstrations have proved prolific New Yorker writer, and social media skeptic, Malcolm Gladwell wrong.
Gladwell, the popular author of "The Tipping Point" and other books, penned a New Yorker column in October that cast doubt on the ability of social media networks to foment significant social change. Titled "Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted," Gladwell's essay dumped cold water on claims that 2009 revolutions in Moldova and Iran were galvanized through such networks.
To Gladwell, social media "are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with." What mattered more, where activism was concerned, was people's strong personal ties to the causes and fellow protesters at hand.
To the Twitterverse, however, events in Egypt this week have proved Gladwell misguided. The protesters used Facebook and Twitter to help coordinate their events, and publicize the rallies, to such a degree that government officials moved to temporarily ban access to social networking site and the Internet.
On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) went so far as to say she was concerned that the CIA had missed signs of the budding demonstrations that were available on Facebook and other public Web sites used by organizers.
Let the gloating begin:
Take that, Malcolm Gladwell! Nobody ever made a sign that said "Thank you, fax machine!" http://t.co/kWId43y
Twitter will not stop protesting until Malcolm Gladwell leaves office.
Even The Onion's parody newspaper Web site got into the action, casting a photo of a glum looking Gladwell under the headline: "Panicked Malcolm Gladwell Realizes Latest Theory Foretells End Of His Popularity".
What does Gladwell think of all this? We couldn't reach him, but he authored a short blog post this week, standing firmly behind his original theory:
Surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone -- and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years -- and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice. People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.
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