Comment 48795

By Borrelli (registered) | Posted October 05, 2010 at 09:30:46

I really liked that Gladwell article when I read it. It was a long-time coming, and I'm glad someone with some "prestige" in the whole social-networks field has compiled a bunch of existing research and applied it and contrasted it with what we're hearing from journos and media-types desperate to believe that Twitter, Facebook and iPads will change the world (and hopefully, along the way, justify their jobs).

But what I thought was his best argument was the one that brought together years of studies into collective action and what actually WORKS when trying to affect change:

"What makes people capable of this kind of activism? The Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam compared the Freedom Summer dropouts with the participants who stayed, and discovered that the key difference wasn’t, as might be expected, ideological fervor. 'All of the applicants—participants and withdrawals alike—emerge as highly committed, articulate supporters of the goals and values of the summer program,' he concluded. What mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil-rights movement. All the volunteers were required to provide a list of personal contacts—the people they wanted kept apprised of their activities—and participants were far more likely than dropouts to have close friends who were also going to Mississippi. High-risk activism, McAdam concluded, is a 'strong-tie' phenomenon."

This is a classic study that I've referred to often. It was one of the key studies that made me wonder if strong work and play relationships might be meaningful to activists on campus (i.e. activists that play together, stay together, and get stuff accomplished). The less-than-stunning results of new forms of organizing have only reinforced this idea that while the internet certain facilitates the formation of groups, there is still a need to organize in more traditional ways (read: IN PERSON) to get stuff done.

I think we're finally reaching the tail end of the exuberance associated with the possibilities of social media. Organizers I know are finally starting to get a lot more realistic about what it can actually accomplish in the area of social change: awareness raising and possibly a gateway to real participation. Despite initial enthusiasm, social media have not revolutionized organizing, because a lot more goes into social movements than a sign-up list and vague commitments.

If you're into quantifying things, then you're probably also dismayed that even with all the buzz around these 'movements', their results have been disappointing. Considering the explosion of social networking groups dedicated to affecting some social change (i.e. Save Darfur) an average of 9 cents a person sure isn't going to accomplish much, and its hardly anything to write home about.

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