Malcolm Gladwell posted a lengthy attack on the idea that social change can actually occur through social networking. And Greenpeace is launching a broadside
call to "unfriend" Facebook because Facebook is siting a data center in
Prineville, Oregon, a location that receives its electricity largely
from dirty coal power.
aside from whatever jealously you may harbor, Facebook has changed the
way that 500,000,000 people -- one out of every fourteen people on the
planet -- connect to the world. For most people there was no such thing
as a status update in their lives as recently as 36 months ago. Chuck Maguy, President of Saatchi & Saatchi LA says that Facebook helps people express who they are and what they believe. "If you're a friend with a new mom on Facebook," he says, "you'll see that it's the place where she goes for the most important questions she faces. Facebook isn't just about telling people that you're at Starbucks."
Rob Goldman, founder and CEO of fast-growing startup Threadsy,
a "social assistant" application that helps people integrate social
networking information with their email, says that Facebook is one of
the most profound technical developments in the last century. "It's
literally changing the way that we relate to each other as human
beings," he says. Far from decrying the shallow relationships that
Malcolm Gladwell profiled as less-than-important in his New Yorker
piece, Facebook is changing the meaning of the word "community",
according to Goldman. "Communities are becoming bigger, more
geographically dispersed, faster and less dense, meaning my friends are
less likely to know each other on facebook than in real life." And
Goldman isn't the only one with a buzz-driving startup that's connected
The game network Zynga
derives most of its revenue from Facebook. Started by serial
entrepreneur Mark Pincus, Zynga has been valued at $5 Billion and hopes
to "transform the world through games." Zynga's breakout hit,
Farmville, is resocializing farming to millions of young people.
it or not the world is increasingly full of screens. Society's
challenge is to overcome this atomization and bring people together to
fix problems from the local library to the atmosphere. Facebook has
this type of social activism written into its core. Facebook's Causes application now has 375,000 individual causes, and more than 20,000,000 people have played a role, mainly small, in an online cause. Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection has over 3 million members. Philanthropic social media campaigns like Pepsi's Refresh Project rely on Facebook to get their message out. Zuckerberg's recent announcement of a $100 million gift to Newark's public schools is one of the largest philanthropic gifts ever by anyone of that age.
Malcolm Gladwell's piece in the New Yorker
focuses on the hype surrounding Twitter and the overblown stories of facilitating the almost-revolution in Iran. But that misses the point. Movements look different today than in the past. They're not always a big, loud group of people waving signs at City Hall. Much of the action happens in policy circles based on polling, or at the cash register. And in corporate activism, companies are quick to react to oncoming threats of actions that might harm their Google
search results. Grassroots organization will always be important, but it can be aided by online activism. The research doesn't yet exist to back this up fully. Here's a peer-reviewed paper
that examined events in 2009 in Guatemala, and concluded that Facebook
was an important communication vehicle to call for the resignation of
the President. Here's another that looks at cyber-protest and civil society
. But it's early yet.
In 1973, Mark Gronevetter argued in his seminal paper, The Strength of Weak Ties
that "small-scale interactions become translated into large-scale
patterns." Facebook is increasing the number of small-scale
interactions that we each can have with our larger network of
acquaintances. Those interactions will eventually create the largest
and most powerful global movement that humanity has ever experienced.
But I guess it's more fun to pick on Mark Zuckerberg.