In the current issue of the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell applies his network critique to digital activism and takes the skeptic’s side (article link). I encourage you to read the original article, which is thought-provoking. However, I have some questions about the absolute distinctions he draws between online and offline activism.
- Gladwell draws an absolute distinction between the strong ties of offline activism (example of the civil rights movement) and the weak ties of online activism (examples of Darfur Facebook groups). Is this an accurate distinction?
- Gladwell reiterates the observation that offline activism is hierarchical while online activism is decentralized. Does this distinction doom online activism to failure or just indicate a new mechanics of activism?
- Gladwell argues that centralized and hierarchical protest movements, like the civil rights movement, which “help us persevere in the face of danger” and “promote strategic and disciplined activity” are unequivocally more effective than decentralized and networked movements. Might this statement not be true under repressive regimes?
What do you think?