Martin Luther King Didn't Tweet

December 10, 2010
by Jennifer Maurer, Sr. Policy Associate

Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools are all the rage, with people waxing poetically that they will revolutionize social movements. But in a recent article in The New Yorker entitled “Small Change: Why the Revolution Won’t Be Tweeted,” Malcom Gladwell asks us to think about when actual social and systemic change occurred and if tweets or “friends” “liking” the cause actually contributed to change. His answer? The “weak ties” of social media are good for getting new information and ideas, but don’t lead to the type of activism that actual creates real change. This type of activism — “high-risk” and “strategic” activism when a lot is asked of you and your respond in a strategic way — is built on strong personal ties. For example, what made some people engaged in “high-risk” activism during the civil-rights movement? It wasn’t that they had more ideological fervor, but rather “what mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil-rights movement,” i.e., his/her friends and contacts personally calling upon him/her to take action. You can get a lot of friends to “sign up” or “like” a cause, but, as Gladwell notes, they do that “by not asking too much of them. That’s the only way you can get someone you don’t really know to do something on your behalf.”

Gladwell’s article is essentially an argument about why RESULTS matters and works. When you read it, like me, you will probably stop every few lines and exclaim (to the chagrin of the man sitting next to you on the metro), “Yes! Exactly! That’s RESULTS! That’s what we do!”

Of course, there is an important role for social media in our work, but we have to remember: Facebooking someone about RESULTS is easy, but it doesn’t replace the hard — but strategic and impactful — work of actually speaking to them face-to-face.

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