A reader writes:
I studied Journalism in the '90s. We were taught in the undergrad curriculum that the fax machine was crucial to the fall of the Soviet Union, specifically the '91 Coup attempt. We were told that the Soviet government controlled the newspapers and state TV but didn't predict the use of the fax machine to get the message out about the tanks rolling through Moscow.
Reading Rich and Gladwell reminded me of my experience reading Vaclav Havel.
Specifically, Havel's famous greengrocer. The greengrocer had a few signs in his window. Some were about his business, like the price of onions or tomatoes. But he also had a sign, provided by the regime, that said something like "workers of the world unite!" Even though he knew it was bullshit, the grocer posted the sign as a pledge of allegiance. The green grocer was engaged in revolution the day he tore down that sign and replaced it with a sign for beans because he was signaling to the world, "you and I both know this is bullshit."
I actually agree with Rich and Gladwell that Twitter and Facebook aren't strong connections. But discussing strong connections as a revolution's spark is a bit like discussing fish and bicycles. Revolutions are sparked by a call of bullshit gone out over a network. That network could be the sidewalks of Prague or the Facebook and Twitter accounts of Tunisians and Egyptians. A woman in Prague strolling down the sidewalk had no more connection to the greengrocer than the people plugged into a twitter feed in Cairo.
One of the primary things the Internet in general and social media in particular do is let you know that you are not alone - that throughout the world there are thousands, if not millions, of people who want the things you want. When people living in a repressive regime discover that there is a vast well of untapped resentment just waiting for a trigger, amazing things can happen.