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.