A reader writes:
Malcolm Gladwell is certainly right that Twitter and Facebook are weak networks; one could never talk unwilling peripheral Facebook friends into going to Tahrir Square and facing heavily armed Mubarak thugs. But what if you don't need to convince your audience? What if your audience has been sitting around - for years - lamenting the regime and wishing that people would get organized and put an end to all the nonsense?
In that case you wouldn't need a strong network for revolution, you would simply be giving the people what they want, in much the same way that a successful consumer products company doesn't build a strong relationship with a buyer of shampoo - meeting the consumer's needs (whether shampoo, or revolution) is plenty, even where close relationships don't exist.
Gladwell's observation explains well why Twitter or Facebook cannot spark revolution in a stable, developed nation like the US or Canada. If the masses are not aligned with the objectives of the revolutionaries, no network, weak or strong, is going to get the job done. But if the masses have been privately, separately dreaming of throwing off the yolk of repression for years, simply publicizing that a million of us are meeting in the square at 7 PM is certainly enough to do the trick.
The obvious truth is, while Facebook networks are no doubt larger than old-fashioned networks, surely every large Facebook network is a compilation of all close friends that would also have been networked in the old world, plus a bunch of peripheral others. Which makes one wonder how the Woolworth's protesters, to use Gladwell's example, were “better off” without Facebook: surely they would have personally contacted the same close individuals either way, but having a tool like Facebook would have opened them to a much larger pool of willing participants than simply talking to their smaller, if stronger, personal network. That is obvious, isn't it?
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