New Media and Activism

(San Francisco Chronicle)

When reading Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The New Yorker, and Henry Jenkins’ response to the article, I had scenes from the movie Milk flashing in my mind. I kept imagining the rallies that Harvey Milk and his supporters organized, and started thinking about how these events would have been changed if each of those people were carrying iPhones or Blackberries with them. They were committed to the cause and the events, and social media could have been utilized to inspire the same sense of commitment in others.

I agree with Ramesh Srinivassan, who is mentioned in Gladwell’s post by saying that he would, “suggest that some elements of social media *can be utilized* to generate and cement ties and coordination between those committed to the revolutionary cause.” I agree that current social media tools are beneficial in creating change – whether it be in organizing a city-wide rally, or simply coordinating people for an after-school activist club. I disagree with Gladwell’s belief that the weak ties enabled by social media sites can’t inspire the level of commitment that civil rights movement required. If a person finds out about a social activist event on Facebook and says that they are “Attending” then actually attends, how are they not committed? Committing to a cause does not necessarily require a big demonstration or violence.

I also think it is interesting that Srinivassan also mentions how social media can enable people in various levels of commitment to a cause to still be able to act on it. For example, people can make anonymous donations through websites, or simply become more informed on certain issues by reading about them online and browsing Twitter and Facebook pages. I think that WikiLeaks is a testament to this – it allows people to become more informed about issues and form a strong opinion, without the “high-risk activism.”




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3 responses to “New Media and Activism

  1. I like how you imply that in our society, people can be informed about issues and not even have any connections to it. They can decide and form their own opinions about whether they support that cause or not. However, I have to disagree with you on the commitment issue. I feel like because of social networking sites, we have become more reliant on doing everything over the internet. We have become lazy and actually going outside to protest a cause seems way too time consuming to our fast-paced minds.

  2. Regarding the Facebook example, I think that something so simple as RSVP-ing to an internet invite can put someone in the brighter light but maybe not have the contrasting effects. Say that there was a protest happening on campus and everyone got the invite via Facebook. The results say that about 60% are going, 20% are undecided, and the other 20% aren’t going. Of the people that are going, only half of them show up. For the half that attends, then good for them–actually committing to something and showing up, even if their participation is initially represented by a social networking site. However, for the other people that didn’t go, then they could be seen as having a lack of commitment. But majority of the people would probably say that “nothing’s official on Facebook” so OF COURSE only half the people who said they would show up actually did.

    No one really holds that other half accountable for anything, now do they? So yes, simple things like social networking sites can help people become more active even if it is not this huge statement or action.. but no, I do not agree with the idea that it doesn’t spark any inspiration. I feel like more people are just respectable towards other opinions instead of persecuting others for not following the “trend.”

  3. Applying this discussion to the activism depicted in Milk was a brilliant idea. I would have liked to see you extend the discussion to the It Gets Better campaign. What would Milk think of that? I think he’d have loved it.

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