The revolution will not be tweeted, says the New Yorker

John Robb quotes from the New Yorker article, then adds thoughts of his own.

Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires…. Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article (Small Change) in the New Yorker (where he contrasts the +/- of weak tie networks with hierarchies).

I think the problems Gladwell cites have more to do with the death of protest movements as a means of social change than any deficiencies seen in weak tie networks.

This is a primary reason the left is so comatose lately. Protest movements have been their major way of organizing for decades. But mass protest in the street is mostly a meaningless spectacle now, full of sound and fury and accomplishing nothing. That’s one reason the left is adrift. They don’t know what to replace protest movements with. Yet. Hopefully some new ideas and strategies will emerge, and soon.

The New Yorker article is absolutely worth reading. But I suggest that while social media probably can not ignite a spark, it can certainly spread the flames fast and far.


  1. I’m still very skeptical of your claims that mass protest doesn’t work. Maybe when it’s as lethargic as recent antiwar protests have been, then it doesn’t work. But what about civil disobedience, like there was in the ’70s against the war, when people sat across streets and such in Washington to make the city (somewhat) shut down, in protest of the war? If we started doing things like that again, why wouldn’t it work?

    • It worked in the 60’s and 70’s, but now the opposition just routes around it or has a Rapid Response ready. Plus, recengt protests haven’t really changed anything.

      Shutting down cities would be a major next step. But that requires a genuine mass movement and a police force that is at least sympathetic.

      What John Robb is talking about is 4GW and how it could be taken it to the next level.

      • But I don’t think anyone is doing it like they did in the ’70s. That’s why it’s not working. Like you said, there’s no mass movement. If we had that kind of size and consistency, then those same tactics would work, I really do believe that.

        • But today, any protest is so tightly controlled that the impact is mainly symbolic. They have be good for rallying the already converted but don’t really get actual change (like ending a war) happening.

          • OK, so it’s not the same as the protests of yore? Again, I don’t think it’s mass protests that don’t work, but how those mass protests are carried out. Maybe they need to stop being so “tightly controlled” and stop obeying the law.

  2. Haven’t gotten hungry enough. Wait a year, see what happens when people start killing each other over a bag of potatoes. Though I disagree, Bob, having been there, that it worked in the Sixties and Seventies. If it had, we wouldn’t be here today. We dropped the ball, my [our] generation did… we stopped The War!

    Our War.

    Viet Nam.

    But we didn’t stop War.

    We forced Nixon to accountability. Whoopee! Nixon quit, The War is Over! Let’s finish our law degrees, cut our hair, and buy beemers and half-million dollar houses on the high desert!

    We stopped The War. Our War. Viet Nam. But we didn’t stop War. We finished our law degrees and bought overpriced McMansions, and left the machinations* in place, notably Bush/Carlyle, Cheney/Haliburton and Rumsfield/etal, that led to the Authoritarian State – Fascist State – we are about, if not have, to become.

    We dropped the ball.

    And it’s twit – twit-ter – twitter. Not “tweet”. Twit.

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