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Guest Blog: Amy

Our readings this week focused in on the ways in which social media may, or may not, be ushering in a new era of social activism. Concerns common to all articles included the changing understanding of what counts as “activism,” whether or not activism through social media goads people into taking more meaningful, perhaps much riskier action, and whether or not the information about revolutions that is dispensed through social media is reliable and respectable.

Summary of the materials:

  • Podcast: What Makes A Successful Digital Activist?

o   A brief podcast interview with Dr. Phillip Howard, a researcher on digital activism. Howard points out that many online activist causes are designed by corporations to appear like grassroots campaigns, but they are less likely to gain success than genuine grassroots movements. Online movements are also most likely get gain success if they petition the government, rather than a corporation, for change. According to his research, activist websites are overwhelmingly non-violent, and have fairly modest goals. Howard also doesn’t see the point in making much of a distinction between online and offline activism, as most modern campaigns use a variety of mediums to spread their message.

o   One of the bits of the interview I found most fascinating was when Howard discussed the need for YouTube to make a decision as to whether or not they would allow videos of violent executions to be allowed online. YouTube decided to allow the videos to stay up, seeing them as a valuable testimony to the atrocities being committed by totalitarian governments.

  • The New Yorker: SMALL CHANGE -- Why the revolution will not be tweeted.

o   In this article, Gladwell reminisces in great detail about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and compares it to what he perceives as a dearth in activism today. He claims that, although many people are hailing social media as a great spreader of activism, it in fact only builds weak connections, which encourage people to participate in the most minimal way possible. He claims that “true” activism, the kind of activism that can be exceedingly controversial, perhaps even life-threatening, requires strong friendship and community connections.

  • The Guardian: Sorry, Malcolm Gladwell, the revolution may well be tweeted

o   A rebuttal to the New Yorker article, this article emphasizes the ability of social media to disseminate opinions from oppressed peoples that might never have been heard before. They agree that, while social media may not necessarily get more people out into the streets, if one defines activism to mean changing people’s minds and calling awareness to human rights violations, then social media truly is revolutionary.

  • Forbes: Malcolm Gladwell's Response to Critics of His New Yorker Piece on Social Media

o   This article seems to summarize both Gladwell’s original perspective and the criticism he’s received. They mentioned that Gladwell has since argued that he is truly a fan of social media, it just doesn’t facilitate widespread activism in the way many people seem to think it does, and that we must accept that any new innovation will contain benefits as well as drawbacks. The article also mentions that Gladwell’s presence on Twitter, a website he criticized extensively, is non-existent.

  • The Social Media Handbook: On Networked Publics and Private Spheres in Social Media

o   This reading takes an intensely philosophical look at the ways in which social media has affected activism, and the ways in which social media has caused social spaces to be rearranged.

My own source

o   I chose this article because I felt like our other sources were really talking about the phenomenon of “slacktivism,” but weren’t using that particular label, so I felt that it was important to look at some recent discourse around the term “slacktivism” specifically. Interestingly, this article concludes that slacktivist-type activities lead to greater engagement in the cause if their initial form of activism was more private: for example, writing to congress instead of retweeting something.

My discussion questions:

  • Does Gladwell exhibit the “nostalgia for past forms of political engagement” mentioned in the Papacharissi article?
  • Do you think YouTube made the correct decision regarding the graphic videos of executions? What are some solid counter-arguments?
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