Charity Hitt MMC 6660 Blog

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications

Week 13 Essay

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Note: My opinion on this topic is drawn from my own personal experience with social media, and has been greatly affected and influenced by the fact that I am an American citizen, a woman who is allowed to pursue a higher education, a Christian who is allowed to freely worship in my own way, and a person who is allowed the freedom of speech.  If I did not have these rights, it is highly likely that I would use social media in a much different way, and my views on this topic would be very different.  My opinion is merely a product of my environment, and I believe Gladwell’s may have been too.

In regards to the debate over Digital Democracy and the views of Gladwell vs. Shirky, I don’t think there is necessarily a right or a wrong answer.  I think each individual’s ability to be influenced towards participation in social reform movements is highly dependent on several intrinsic factors; a person’s views on  the issue at hand, a predisposition towards passivity or confrontation, or a level of involvement in a particular cause.  It would be inaccurate to say that social media inspires its users towards action 100% of the time, but it would also be ridiculous to say that social media does not facilitate or make the process of organizing and participating in social reform easier, for those who are inclined to participate.

I also think that age is a huge factor in which side of the tape you fall on with this issue.  If I had to choose a side, I would probably lean more towards Gladwell’s view, though I have a sneaking suspicion that my opinion is a product of my generation. Gladwell makes a good point about ‘weak ties’ in social media, and how the company we keep on sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not representative of our real life relationships that we are truly invested in. I would say this is particularly true for the younger generation, using myself and my parents as an example: I have many friends I couldn’t tell you two things about on social media, while my mother and father deny friend requests from anyone who they haven’t kept company with their whole life. My social media accounts are therefore infiltrated with dozens of requests to “Join my cause” from hundreds that I am connected to through ‘weak ties’. It is because of this that I would agree with Gladwell when he counters prior praise of social media.  Gladwell states, “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. ”

To illustrate Gladwell’s point, if I am sent a request to join a cause on social media by someone that I don’t really know (a ‘weak tie’) and it only requires a few simple clicks than I’ll participate, no problem.  However, if it requires more than that I am not likely to take action, unless it is the cause that catches my attention, and not the person who invited me to participate in the cause.   It is in this way that I agree with Gladwell, who in defense of his view says, “People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.”

Kirk Chefyitz counters Gladwell’s views, saying “Considering the central role of media and mass communications throughout history, that’s a pretty silly position — a position that ignores the central role of media in defining human society. So-called social media, of course, are nothing more (nor less) than media–another set of publishing platforms in a long series of such platforms.”  While it is true that media plays a part in reformation and ‘spreading the word’ during social movements, there also is something to be said for where the original source of that information comes from.  If we see or hear about a social reform movement from the mass media, we may be more inclined to pay it more attention than if it is something we heard about from our fifth cousin’s best friend’s boyfriend-in-law (in other words, a weak tie).


Written by charityhitt

November 14, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. A very good analysis drawing on your own experience. It got me wondering and thinking about structure and agency — how much of your even weak tie participation re clicking causes is affected by the fact that you are aware future employers could access your social media activity?

    Ronald R. Rodgers

    November 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

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