What facebook and twitter cannot do

I have always been skeptical to the high claims of social media tools like facebook and twitter and their evangelists. But it is just my gut feeling and I cannot offer any good arguments. But I do believe social media is not a cure for all. It has its strengths and weaknesses. And these are the weaknesses which we often tend to ignore.

Social media activists and marketers will like you to believe that every future revolution is going to originate from social media. Unfortunately this is not going to happen anytime soon, according to celebrated writer Malcolm Gladwell.

In this really interesting essay “Why the revolution will not be tweeted“, he argues why a true revolution cannot be brought with the help of social media. Malcolm Gladwell is author of many wonderful books including Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers.

In his words:

Some of this grandiosity is to be expected. Innovators tend to be solipsists. They often want to cram every stray fact and experience into their new model.

And about the weaknesses of friendships built on facebook (and their positive effects):

The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.

Discussing a highly successful social media campaign to get bone-marrow donation:

But how did the campaign get so many people to sign up? 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. You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry, because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek swab and—in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow is a good match for someone in need—spend a few hours at the hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960.

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