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Malcolm GladwellLast week the author Malcolm Gladwell poured cold water on the idea that revolution could be instigated by social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

He centres his argument around the American civil rights movement, claiming that the strong bonds forged offline were required to spark action in the streets, where millions ultimately gathered in the 60s to protest against segregation and oppression. Social media, by contrast, forges only “weak ties”, says Gladwell. Not the kind of bonds required to make a difference where it really counts.

I think he’s completely missing the point. Martin Luther King’s status updates and tweets would have helped to spread awareness quickly, encouraging activism, had Facebook and Twitter been available in his day. You can bet your life he'd have used them to spread word. 

A connected world cannot be a bad thing for change, in whatever form it takes.

Revolution requires information, communication & networking, people, passion and action. The difference today might be that while we’re strong on the first three, there is a definite sense of political apathy in the West. But not so everywhere, and as other commentators have pointed out we’re seeing the social web at the heart of political – and other – action all over the world

And besides, not all revolutions are of the political kind. Revolutions don’t have to result in a change of state, nor the overhaul of some anti-human law. They come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. Revolution can often be a very personal thing, or it can occur on a massive scale. 

Some revolutions do not require any physical action whatsoever: a change of collective mindset might be enough to kickstart something much bigger. The irony is that Gladwell knows a thing or two about tipping points. If enough people make enough noise then the powers that be might take notice and be influenced by the masses. After all, that’s why brands are desperate to make sense of social media, isn’t it? They want to influence the crowd, and to encourage brand advocacy, as opposed to public complaints and other forms of bad noise. Listen. Consider. Respond. Learn.

Real revolution is already taking place. There is an information revolution happening, there is a media and news revolution happening, there is a consumer revolution happening, there is a communications revolution happening. And all of this is all based on real people doing real things. The social web is at the heart of it.

So here are my 10 arguments against Gladwell’s notion that the admittedly overhyped social web is a rubbish tool for revolution. It is in fact quite the opposite, despite all of the bluff, bluster and bullshit that we try our very best to ignore…

Reality vs virtuality

Gladwell infers that social media platforms like Facebook are somehow virtual: the friendships not really friendships at all, the ties are weak. In some cases that may be true, but as an observation from a serious author it leaves a lot to be desired. The idea that the ‘social’ bit of 'social media' does not represent ‘real people’ is a thoroughly misguided. People power these platforms. People revolt.

Yes, relationships can be different online and they may initially be “weaker”, but that’s not to say that they aren’t valuable and will never develop into stronger offline friendships.

Volume and frequency of messaging = awareness

Everything counts in large amounts, right? If I see enough repetition in my tweetstream I’ll probably check out a story, click a link, or participate in the conversation, and that can extend to Gladwell's beloved offline environments.

This is the basis for advertising as we know it: the more people are exposed to a message, the more likely they are to notice it and take some form of action. I'm a sucker, as it often works for me.

My tweetstream helps me to become aware of - and ingest - new information. Sometimes it encourages me to do something, to take action (though I have yet to start any kind of political revolution). 

Fact vs fiction

As Richard Dawkins says: “Don’t believe what your parents tell you. Don’t believe what your teachers tell you. Look things up for yourself. Draw your own conclusions.” That is the big difference between 1960 and today: nowadays it is so much easier to investigate stories, check facts, balance opinions and wade into the fray. If you want to.

Because it is easier more people will do it. Guaranteed. Eyes are being opened every day, all over the world. 


I trust my network. Not in the same way that I trust my brother, but I trust the people I follow to some degree or other because I choose to follow them. I try not to follow idiots, trolls, con artists and shady bastards. I guess I trust some people more than others.

Gladwell is wrong when he talks about "weak ties". It's a lame thing to say. All relationships are founded on trust, and trust becomes stronger with exposure and interaction with people (both of which occur in many forms).

You don’t have to agree with everybody in your network - different strokes for different folks - but opinion, and divisive opinion, is what’s required to challenge your thinking in any given area. I like to follow a few contrarians who I don’t always agree with, but who always make me think for myself. 

The truth is probably out there, and it's up to you to choose who to believe. It could be that you have most faith in Wikileaks, or Wikipedia, or the mass media, or the bloggers, or @StephenFry. Ultimately, you always need to decide for yourself, but your trusted network can help you.

The network as a personal content filter

In a pre-Digg, pre-Twitter age I used to tune into news aggregators like Google News and NewsNow dozens of times every day. When I was a journalist it was a core part of my job, but that behaviour soon became a broader habit. I stopped visiting news sites so much, preferring the aggregators.

Now, I still visit the aggregators intermittently, but I have Tweedeck constantly running in the background, and most news of any importance tends to find its way into my tweetstream. It's useful like that.

This is a revolution in itself. News travels fast on social networks, is very direct and highly relevant. Twitter and Facebook are all about word of mouth, when it boils down to it.

Yet Gladwell says online discussion counts for much less than a face to face conversation. You can't ignore somebody who is looking you in the eye when they're speaking to you. True, but there is still much value to be had from online messages and conversations. Again, volume counts. 

The News Renaissance

Now this is a revolution, and it shouldn't come as any shock to you. The media business has changed remarkably in the past 15 years, but I’d argue that the quality and variety of news is better than ever before. Yes, traditional business models are screwy and this is no time for complacency, and yes, there is a lot of low value content out there. But if you follow the scent trails you can really dig into a story, as never before. That applies to both journalists and readers. Do your own research. Because you can.

Despite the business model problems (which have been exacerbated in many cases by poor decision-making at management level) I remain incredibly optimistic about the future of ‘proper’ journalism, which is ultimately about unearthing truths and joining up the dots for readers. But we can’t always rely on Big Media to do that, as sometimes they won’t bother: note how the Murdoch press suppressed publication of the phone hacking / Andy Coulson story, but also note how that story has refused to go away despite the efforts of a dominant media organisation like News Corp.

Questions will continue to be asked of Coulson, as the story is kept alive in a fragmented media landscape that now includes millions of Twitter users / nanopublishers. Reach is very important in messaging: don’t underestimate the network effect of sites like Twitter. In addition, the background noise is often pretty interesting – and can be full of more truths - than the sensationalist headlines that frequently scream at you from the front page of our newspapers. 

On Twitter you follow your favourite curators of news / links / comment. They are in a sense ‘presenters’ and ‘reporters’ themselves, delivering content through their own lens directly to your tweetstream. News can be hyperlocal and everybody can become a ‘publisher’. As such news can be bespoke, more immediate, and perhaps more subjective than ever before. You buy into a version of a story, just like you always do. It’s just that the narrator is now introduced to you by (or is) one of your friends, and you might be able to check 100 different versions of the same story if you really want to.

Gladwell should also consider how social media impacted on the Trafigura story / injunction. The mass media were almost entirely bound and gagged, until the Twitter hordes windmilled into the action.

The media revolution is driven by tools

God, possibly.What is powering this News Renaissance? Technology, and cheap technology at that. The recording, documenting, communication and distribution tools available to the average man in the street are staggeringly powerful, compared with what were available as recently as a decade ago. If there is a God then may I suggest it is George Orwell, and on the eighth day he did duly invent the smartphone.

Consumer-powered sites such as Youtube and StumbleUpon are fantastic resources for anybody who wants to share stories or search for information. Wordpress is one of the web’s true treasures, as a means for publishing your own content (I launched my first magazine when I was eight – today it would have been powered by Wordpress). Anybody can start a Posterous or Tumblr blog in minutes and start publishing immediately. I cannot recommend these free resources highly enough. 

But surely journalists and reporters need training? Well that remains one option, if you're taught the right skills for a career in the modern media world, but you can learn pretty much anything you want to from the comfort of your own bed and there's a lot to be said for a DIY approach. I didn't train to be a writer but did a lot of reading, immersed myself in the subjects I planned to focus on, learnt from my mistakes and I am naturally inquisitive so I've managed to do ok. In the pre-internet glory days I'd have had far less of an opportunity to carve out a career in content.

Besides, experience is a great teacher, and there’s nothing to stop wannabe writers from getting that experience by starting up their own websites. You can really get noticed that way. And sometimes these sites will become more powerful than long-established media titles. Some eventually sell for big bucks.

Go on: dive in. The water is lovely.

The crowd isn’t always wise. That includes offline crowds too.

Crowds can be stupid tooOk, so I’m not a big believer in the ‘wisdom’ of crowds. People behave differently in groups. Some become sheep: they don’t think for themselves, can’t make decisions and are easily influenced by more powerful voices. That in itself doesn’t make those voices morally correct, or trustworthy, but it bestows them with influence, and amplifies them. 

You don’t need social networks to coalesce the voices of millions of madmen supporters. Was the Third Reich really a natural expression of the German national character? It is a weird thing to imagine a world in which Facebook and Twitter existed during the Second World War. Would the myriad benefits outweigh the darker risks? 

In a socially-connected age we are in a better position to make people aware of – and rise up against - the various flavours of crazies. They live on the web too, but isn't it better to live in a relatively open world? Visibility is key to understanding: better that people explain their beefs openly, than for them to pursue hidden vendettas. People still have the tools to help them think for themselves if they really want to.

Meanwhile crowdsourcing - as opposed to ‘group thinking’ - is a more positive trend, and has been warmly embraced by publishers and brands alike. Mining the collective brain can be incredibly fruitful. Crowdsourcing is of course at the heart of the mighty Wikipedia, which – as Gladwell rightly states – has its own problems (editors who have their own agenda to follow) and cannot be relied upon to deliver 100% proof truth. 

But Wikipedia gets a lot of bad press. Show me a media platform that doesn’t have editors, or agendas, or misreport ‘facts’. The mainstream news media is a hysterical beast nowadays, and is far from the objective creature that we’re supposed to believe it to be. Major news organisations take sides, just like bloggers and Facebook users do. Let’s once and for all bury the myth that Big Media is objective and faithfully reports the truth. Journalists don't report truths, they interpret them.

So despite its flaws I think Wikipedia is one of the greatest gifts to the world’s knowledge-seekers / pub quiz cheats ever created. Anybody can access it instantaneously, and there's no cost involved. And for that the world should be at least slightly grateful, before scuttling off to double check its facts.

Discovering new voices

I have always been a music nut. I have spent countless hours leafing through magazines, browsing for treasure in underground record emporia and exploring any number of music-related sites to search for pointers and insight. But the past five years has been a real music revolution for me, largely powered by the wonderful Last.fm, which has helped me to find new (and old) music that ticks all of the right boxes, and some of the wrong ones too.

The joy of Last.fm is that it is based almost entirely on the information it gleans from its community. It monitors and makes sense of listening habits, and then helps users to expand their musical palette. It cannot be beaten as a highly relevant discovery / recommendation engine, not even by mighty Amazon. 

Many other communities exist on the internet, and the best websites really know how to harness them. The internet is a wonderful place for anyone with a passion for knowledge. The communities are out there if you look for them. They can help you to discover wonderful - and horrifying - new things.

The consumer revolution

Since the birth of the commercial internet there has been a massive gold rush, a Google land grab, and most companies have been heavily focused on customer acquisition. In the next decade I believe we’ll see a revolution in customer retention, with firms adopting a user-centric strategy based around listening, participation, and delivering amazing customer service (which should never again be seen as a cost burden by businesses).

This is in part demand-led. Consumers have become a) fed up with rubbish service and b) empowered by social media, and they are quite happy to bitch and moan about brands in public. Despite this, some people aren’t so sure that social media is a good thing for businesses, when it seems patently obvious that increased engagement via social media will help brands understand how to keep customers satisfied. Happier customers normally means higher profits. It’s a no brainer to interact with them.

By tuning into consumers via social media platforms companies can improve customer satisfaction and service levels. Some firms don’t care about that kind of thing, but all consumers do, and they are increasingly noisy. Firms that listen and learn from their customers will - if the theory stands up - be rewarded with increased customer lifetime value, as loyalty rates increase, plus customer referrals.

I think a more joined-up world is a good thing for all sorts of revolutions, no matter how big or small. The years ahead are full of promise and opportunity, as far as I can tell.

I’d love to hear your own thoughts in the comments below.

Chris Lake

Published 5 October, 2010 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

Comments (22)

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

Great stuff Chris.

I think the 'fact versus fiction' element is crucial. I love the fact that when something a bit controversial happens (often political), my Twitter stream is filled with differing opinions. Clearly, as I've cultivated my followers myself, it is probably skewed toward my viewpoint, but there is still dissent and debate and this is incredibly important in establishing a so-called 'progressive' society - both online and offline. As you say, we live in a much more connected society and this surely can only be a good thing. 

Indeed, sometimes I wish there was a bit more discagreement and debate on social channels and less back-slapping, but that might just be English politeness shining through...!

over 6 years ago


Jo Jordan

Point 1. Isn't it a question of cart before the horse. We have something to do with people beyond our immediate physical place; social media is useful. Point 2. Does social media drive change beyond communication? Yes, because we can see how many people are involved. The feedback loops are changed and we like being part of a group. Point 3. Are all the forces moving in the same direction? Maybe not. There are well argued discussions that the old categories of labour and capital have broken down and have not been replaced with other political groupings. Therefore, old organized groups still have massive power. The litterati are usually lazy and as blinkered as anyone else. Oh, we can take the urban areas. But can we take the country? (To quote the song.) Gladwell, in my reading, is making this point positively. If you want something you have to organize, mobilize, work for what you want. He's reminding us that Facebook or whatever is not going to fight the revolution or whatever for us. We do that. It's hard dangerous work as it has ever been. Losing might cost us all. Social media doesn't address that. How could it? It is just the 21st century telephone. It can no more drive activity than the phone could. But imagine trying to live without it.

over 6 years ago


dan barker

very good, Chris. I agree with all of this.

I agreed with him on the Tehran bit, but he was just echoing the (very good) Golnaz Esfandiari piece.

For the most part I think he's just being contrary. Had Clay Shirky's books not already claimed the points he's arguing against, and had he actually put some effort in to understand the nuts & bolts of the concepts he's talking about (his social media presence is a real mess) I'm sure he'd have been writing an article from the opposite viewpoint.

over 6 years ago



@Chris - I fear that everyone is missing the point about Gladwell's point. Social Media does help to raise awareness, but awareness is not activism. It's being aware of activism. True activism involves willingness to sacrifice, and teamwork, which leads to a greater efficacy of an individual activist's sacrifice. Retweeting doesn't cut it. That nine cents per user is totally meaningless. And to suggest that it's either nine cents or heading to Darfur with an M16 disingenuously skirts the core of Gladwell's argument.

over 6 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Anonymous - my core point is why do people become activists in the first place? That's where the awareness / networking / communications / tools come into play. A world with social networks is better than one without.

Activism isn't for everybody - I'm politically aware but I've never taken to the streets - but as greater amounts of people become aware of the issues, more activists will surely emerge. To some degree it's a numbers game, driven by the kind of information that arouses enough passion to do something more directly tangible than a retweet / like / share etc.

That's ultimately why I think social platforms and the tools we have at our disposal to share messages are so valuable. No awareness = no meaningful activism.  

over 6 years ago

Simon Gornick

Simon Gornick, Owner at Moovd LLC

@Chris - activism comes from injustice. it's for everyone who suffers from injustice. The only examples of successful activism conform to that paradigm. Activism isn't activism because you're on twitter. In the West we love the idea of exporting our bourgeois guilt to support the wronged in the third world, but what are we prepared to pay? Nine cents. That is pseudo-activism, and its bogus support for the Green Revolution in Iran shows that social media can actually be of advantage only to those trying to undermine social justice. Because it's not closed, social media can't be a good tool for effective activism. My takeaway from this is unacceptable for social media boosterists. Whether or not the wronged are or are not on social networks is essentially irrelevant.

over 6 years ago


Rasul Sha'ir

I completely agree with the Anonymous comment. Most comments (and your retort) completely missed the point. Malcolm is talking about ACTIVISM, not whether or not digital/social media is a revolution or not. In your counterpoint not once did you discuss Malcom's core point of high risk activism vs. low risk activism which is really the core issue that he is speaking to. If you're going to argue against a two time international best seller please lay down much stronger arguments.

over 6 years ago


Robert G

I don't get it - you didn;t really tackle Malcolms main point - that the ties on social networks are weak and this means the networks are not strong enough to generate genuine activism. In your reply to Anonymous you point out that social networks may be hearding people into activism by increased awareness... but where is the evidence these people are genuine activists rather than sympathetic spectators... this is the crucial point which you have failed to address, i suspect because it cannot be addressed.  

Simon Gornick sums this up nicely. 

over 6 years ago



@Danny Whatmough "Indeed, sometimes I wish there was a bit more discagreement and debate on social channels and less back-slapping, but that might just be English politeness shining through...!

English politeness or not, it's a fundamental problem. Everyone's networks skew toward the things they find interesting, toward the voices they approve of. Endless echo-chamber to the power n - that's why the familiar SM mantra of "if news is important it will find me" is not only naive, but also dangerous.

@Chris Lake: "But if you follow the scent trails you can really dig into a story, as never before. That applies to both journalists and readers. Do your own research. Because you can."

You also might not. Why would you, "because it's easy"? I know what's easier. Sure "it's a numbers game". But there are numbers on the other side of the equation too: competing issues, competing channels, competing voices, competing distractions - all of them descreasingly incentivised to really dig, as such an investment offers diminishing returns in a real-time, networked environment.

over 6 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Rasul / @Robert: I started off by disagreeing with Malcolm's generalisation that social networks only engender weak ties. That seems to be his assumption, and it seems at least partially accurate, but I don't fully buy into it. Who knows how many Facebook 'fans' will in time migrate to full-on activism? 

I believe that weak ties can become strong ties, just as they do in the Real World. And strong ties can lead to activism, judging by McAdam's research (which predates the internet).

We'll hopefully see some more studies in this area to make better sense of it.

over 6 years ago

Simon Gornick

Simon Gornick, Owner at Moovd LLC

@chris It's a truism to say that weak ties can become strong ties. The issue is why they become strong ties, and - regarding activism - what those strong ties will encourage the group to actually *do*. If we accept that activism involves risk and sacrifice, then just those ties have not only to be stronger, but must be bonds of profound common experience. There's little chance for that to be engendered merely by the 'sharing' impulse of social media. Activism is exclusively offline. Pseudo activism is almost exclusively online, and sadly, in my view never the 'twain shall meet. This discussion goes far deeper than activism to the constant battle to avoid an honest discussion of what social media is and can do. It's really an updated and more interactive version of email with its own privacy settings. What is that useful for? Sharing pictures of your kids and marketing. You wanna save villagers in Darfur? Organize a stunt like this. Send a victim of Janjaweed brutality into the office of every congressmen and senator simultaneously, and have them refuse to leave when Capitol Hill security comes along. That's activism.

over 6 years ago

Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander, CEO at Molander & Associates Inc.

Chris, I'm afraid you've changed the subject. I understand you may be feeling an urge to be contrarian and a social media enthusiast. But you're a tremendous critical thinker. "A connected world cannot be a bad thing for change, in whatever form it takes." You've immediately changed the subject. But then return to it -- to argue that these ARE amazing (good) tools for revolution-making. But the revolutions you point at (and support arguments with) aren't revolutions at all. They're simply evolutions. And they seem to be evolutions based on weak ties. Social media's in-ability to create radical change; rather, nudge evolution forward. In nearly all cases, social media hasn't been been driven by function and purpose. It's organized in a way that produce outputs that aren't behavioral: buzz and popularity. Why? Because there are no new functions or purposes for social media. Social media is not a quantum leap. It's barely a stagger forward. What separates it now from what has come before is that it got buzz, got cool, got popular. Fast. The more we use the word revolution the more we miss the boat. The more we miss the opportunity: To talk about how to adapt and evolve. Just my 2 cents.

over 6 years ago

Simon Gornick

Simon Gornick, Owner at Moovd LLC

@jeff As you imply, "buzz and popularity" are hardly the stuff of social justice. It's important for us all to remember that the social media is one huge feedback machine. We all say how important it is - via social media. As you point out, it's an incremental shift building on its own buzz. It's also a deeply class-based phenomenon. Poorer, less educated people in first world countries use it far less, and poorer people in developing countries have hardly heard of it. They're too busy surviving.

over 6 years ago


Chris Rea

Enjoyed the article Chris. Yes, social media has made access to and the distribution of information dramatically different from times past. This may help stoke the fires of activism but may also encourage inaction (there's more opportuntity to watch from the sidelines) and envoke the bystander effect.

Social media and the change in the dissemination is not in and of itself a revolution. Revolution, radical change will always come from action. Rosa Parks, Cesear Chevez etc all had to act. Social media may help spread the word, but true change will always been some stepping away from the desk and standing up often against a strong current.

All the best,

Chris Rea

over 6 years ago

Simon Gornick

Simon Gornick, Owner at Moovd LLC

@Chris et al - This was and remains a sterling debate. Thanks for providing an excellent forum for discussion! I'll watch for more installments

over 6 years ago


Bert Kruizenga


I was triggered by an article in one of our dutch newspapers on Malcolm's statements and the answer from Chris. In NL social media is also cool and popular with Hyves, twitter, facebook (and even Linked In, Plaxo and the likes) and so on. I'm not a real social media guy and reading both articles, I sympatize with both Malcolm and Chris. I do believe that these media forms  can be superficial, short lived, pushed by the hype and sometimes even addictive ("I need to link to my friends / have a lot of "friends" / post tweets  / have followers or else...."). They exist as they are popular and "you want / have to be part of it"... Looking around me I see that a lot of people have these because it's almost "expected" to have them. However the percentage actually using them frequently is a lot less. The majority are "sleeping" members just being part of it.

On the other hand the current generation IS triggered by these ways of communication, they feel a connection to the communities they're linked to and use it as information source. It can certainly have it's effect on starting up awareness, actitivies and influence others.

Whether it's more of an evolution than a revolution...personally I lean more towards evolution. Comparing it to the civil rights activism, you have to look at it in the right perpective when it took place. When radio / TV was hot, it had a great impact when it was used. Today digital information reaches the new generation much faster than traditional channels (radio, tv, newspapers) and they're used to exchange information that way.

I still agree that the lifespan of "news" has become much shorter with these forms of communication.

Just my thought.

over 6 years ago



It seems Chris and Gladwell are both making mistakes. Gladwell is engaging in historicism, apparently ignoring its highly problematic nature and extremely limited usefulness. Chris is confusing awareness with activism.

If I join a Facebook group condemning the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan I am no more an activist than if I sign a petition. Arguably less, since the effort involved in joining a Facebook group is even lower than signing my name and giving my address. That's not to say that it isn't worth something, but it's worth an awful lot less than going on a demonstration, taking the time to write to my MP, or joining a vigil outside an embassy. Sure, I might get interested enough in a particular cause through Facebook to get actively involved, but that's no more likely to elicit my active participation than reading about it in the newspapers. I can express my sympathy as much as possible online, but in order to have an active role I have to go offline (unless I decide to engage in cyber attack). Talking about it isn't enough. In fact, I might decide that since I've joined a Facebook group, I've done my bit and need take no further action. It might conversely assuage my guilt and dissuade me from getting more actively involved by giving me the illusion of activism.

But this is the age old debate about whether talking or doing is better. You need both, and in any case the one can't exist without the other, so arguing about which is better is a bit like arguing whether chickens or eggs are superior.

I dispute whether online bonds are as strong as offline ones. I have no Facebook friends that aren't real life acquaintances, and where the relationship is a close one, the offline always takes precedence. 

over 6 years ago

Jonathan Salem Baskin

Jonathan Salem Baskin, Author at Histories of Social Media

Most of Chris’s 10 arguments for the social revolution being ‘real’ are based on presumptions about the relevance of image, awareness, and intention that were used to make the case for branded marketing in the days of vacuum tubes. To buy the argument for these old uses of new media, you have to first agree that virtual engagement inexorably leads to engagement in reality.

Malcolm Gladwell says it doesn’t, or at least hasn’t so far. He doesn’t see social technology as revolutionary because he doesn’t see its influence on image, awareness, and intention leading people to do revolutionary things.

Every new technology, like every new war, gets executed based on theories and strategies that are one iteration-old: horse cavalry charged machine guns, and the first TV programs were modeled on radio plays and variety hours. I think something similar is happening with social media platforms, which seem to be put to use to further realize ideas about branding and communication that date back to the 1960s.

So both Chris and Malcolm are right. Behavior makes virtual experience real, and virtual experience can be a potent tool for sharing reality. They’re also both wrong because they’re trying to dissect a moment in time still preoocupied with the approaches and expectations of the last technological revolution.

What’s fascinating to me is how different this conversation becomes if we strip out the technology part and look at the connections between what people think and know, and what they subsequently do. It becomes a debate about history, really:

  • Does better distribution of information mean that people are more knowledgable or secure in what they know?
  • Can the crowd offer up consistently viable answers to big problems, and will it commit to living with the outcomes of its will?
  • Can authority be delegated, and does it maintain the same amount of credibility and reliability?
  • Does the dueling of debate change minds and reach consensus, or does it reinforce preconceived notions?

The past offers up repeat examples of these experiences and, if I’m right, suggests that the real insights will be far more profound than making the case for what today’s social technologies do (or don’t do). It’ll be about what happens because of them, in actions, just as Malcolm suggests, enabled by the reality of virtual experiences that Chris notes.

over 6 years ago

Nigel Sarbutts

Nigel Sarbutts, Managing Director at BrandAlert

The reaction to Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Prize today is starting to look like it could be a live experiment which will help to decide this either way. 1. Watch this space 2. Hope that whatever social's impact in China, the outcome is peaceful.

over 6 years ago

Simon Gornick

Simon Gornick, Owner at Moovd LLC

@Nigel I agree with the general thrust of your point, but it'll be a cold day in hell before social activism brings down the Chinese CP. So far at least, the muted response to an impressively incendiary move by the Nobel Committee points to the live experiment being yet another social media bust.

over 6 years ago


Andrew C

Some good points.

Indeed there is a lot of noise from people well-versed in social media but not academically endowed in psychology and anthropology etc, as well as the reverse. 

Perhaps what's being missed is that "activism" is simply altering its form, or adding to its repertoire, or both.  Maybe 20 million 'buck-oh-five' contributions is equal (in net result and effectiveness) to a handful of lives sacrificed - if we consider 'effort' as an organic, even reified gestalt 'blob' of investment.

Activism per se doesn't necessarily have to be ape vs ape, testosterone-filled ranting and kamikaze-style tank blocking. Surely that kind of behavior is what we are trying to leave behind as we evolve a little this century, and moreover perhaps we are, as you say, seeking to avert such childish altercations early on, at the attitudinal stage.  Like adults! 

over 6 years ago

Nigel Sarbutts

Nigel Sarbutts, Managing Director at BrandAlert

I can't see any reaction from Malcolm Gladwell to the Wikileaks Iraq dossier, but whilst Wikileaks isn't a social network per se, it feeds and gains its strength from the networks, combined with mainstream media.

The real impact of the Iraq dossier is still unknown but it's not outlandish to imagine that the unfettered release and social distribution of classified documents could have as much influence on how conflicts are planned as TV cameras did in Vietnam.

I think looking for 'a smoking Tweet' is a naive way of approaching it.

over 6 years ago

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