Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

Praise Marx And Pass The Social Media [2]

The boosters and evangelists of social media seem to think that a Facebook friend is the same thing as a real friend, and that signing up with or “liking” an online pressure group counts as activism, in the same way as joining a civil rights march was activism. 

It isn’t.  Malcolm Gladwell, writing in The New Yorker (see previous post), challenges the accepted notion that social networks achieve things by increasing participants’ motivation.  All that really happens, Gladwell points out, is that “social networks are effective at increasing participation, by lessening the amount of motivation that participation requires... Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make real sacrifice, but ...to do the things that people do when they are NOT motivated enough to make a real sacrifice”. 

This makes social media “activism” inconclusive and trivial:  you can join a social media pressure group instantly, on a whim, and leave again just as quickly, without risking anything, or indeed achieving anything except briefly giving yourself a nice warm virtuous feeling.  Your “participation” leaves little lasting trace and has no real effect.

The real social movements that have changed the course of history needed leaders, hierarchic structure, budgets, strategy, planning and accountability.  Social media movements are ineffective because they lack all those things. Facebook and Twitter are about loose and ephemeral networks, not hierarchies.  They can be noisy and adaptable because each contribution is risk-free and individual. 

There are no leaders keeping social network members to a common standard, no editors insisting on truth or consistency, (or, for that matter, even basic levels of spelling and grammar).  Social networks never really set goals or require their members to subscribe to a consensus view.  They have no strategic direction, just an accretion of... well... stuff.  When everyone can have their say, there is no possibility of definitive meaning or direction being the result.  Disagreements between network participants are never resolved. All tweets and posts have equal value, and are equally trivial and inconsequential as a result.  It’s the online equivalent of several million people all clearing their throats at the same time.

True, social media make it easier for people to express their opinions, but at the same time make it harder for that expression to have any real or lasting impact on anything.  Mostly it’s about reinforcing opinions you already had.  No amount of “liking” or “following” will ever change anything of real importance to humanity.  Online movements end not with a bang but a whimper, and everyone forgets and moves on to the next big noise-making issue.

Pi says:  social networking is the ultimate trivial pursuit.  Those who actually want to change things should grab a banner and head for the barricades.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Multiple Geographies Product –