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After carefully reading Essig and Gladwell’s arguments, please complete this Gladwell and Stone Argument Breakdown worksheet.


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Author’s Main Claim about
Social Media Activism
What are 2-3 of the authors’
sub-claims (reasons for the
main claim).
What are some
examples/pieces of
evidence you see the author
Does the author think social
media activism is helpful or
damaging overall?
Save paper and follow @newyorker on Twitter
from the Greensboro Record. “I’ll be back tomorrow with A. &
T. College,” one of the students said.
By next morning, the protest had grown to twenty-seven men
and four women, most from the same dormitory as the original
four. The men were dressed in suits and ties. The students had
brought their schoolwork, and studied as they sat at the counter.
On Wednesday, students from Greensboro’s “Negro” secondary
school, Dudley High, joined in, and the number of protesters
swelled to eighty. By Thursday, the protesters numbered three
hundred, including three white women, from the Greensboro
campus of the University of North Carolina. By Saturday, the
sit-in had reached six hundred. People spilled out onto the
street. White teen-agers waved Confederate flags. Someone
threw a firecracker. At noon, the A. &T. football team arrived.
“Here comes the wrecking crew,” one of the white students
By the following Monday, sit-ins had spread to WinstonSalem, twenty-five miles away, and Durham, fifty miles away.
The day after that, students at Fayetteville State Teachers
College and at Johnson C. Smith College, in Charlotte, joined
in, followed on Wednesday by students at St. Augustine’s
College and Shaw University, in Raleigh. On Thursday and
Friday, the protest crossed state lines, surfacing in Hampton and
Portsmouth, Virginia, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and in
Chattanooga, Tennessee. By the end of the month, there were sitins throughout the South, as far west as Texas. “I asked
every student I met what the first day of the sitdowns had been
like on his campus,” the political theorist Michael Walzer wrote
in Dissent. “The answer was always the same: ‘It was like a fever.
Everyone wanted to go.’ ” Some seventy thousand students
eventually took part. Thousands were arrested and untold
thousands more radicalized. These events in the early sixties
became a civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of
the decade-and it happened without e-mail, texting,
Facebook, or Twitter.
he world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution.
The new tools of social media have reinvented social
activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the
traditional relationship between political authority and popular
will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to
collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns. When
ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Moldova in the
spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist
government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution,
because of the means by which the demonstrators had been
brought together. A few months after that, when student
protests rocked Tehran, the State Department took the unusual
step of asking Twitter to suspend scheduled maintenance of its
Web site, because the Administration didn’t want such a critical
organizing tool out of service at the height of the
demonstrations. “Without Twitter the people oflran would not
have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and
democracy,” Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security adviser,
later wrote, calling for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel
Peace Prize. Where activists were once defined by their causes,
they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online
to push for change. “You are the best hope for us all,” James K.
Glassman, a former senior State Department official, told a
crowd of cyber activists at a recent conference sponsored by
Facebook, A. T. &T., Howcast, MTV, and Coogle. Sites like
Facebook, Glassman said, “give the U.S. a significant
competitive advantage over terrorists. Some time ago, I said that
A1 Qgeda was ‘eating our lunch on the Internet.’ That is no
longer the case. A1 Qgeda is stuck in Web 1.0. The Internet is
now about interactivity and conversation.”
These are strong, and puzzling, claims. Why does it matter who
is eating whose lunch on the Internet? Are people who log on to
their Facebook page really the best hope for us all? As for
Moldova’s so-called Twitter Revolution, Evgeny Morowv, a
scholar at Stanford who has been the most persistent of digital
evangelism’s critics, points out that Twitter had scant internal
significance in Moldova, a country where very few Twitter
accounts exist. Nor does it seem to have been a revolution, not
least because the protests-as Anne Applebaum suggested in
the Washington Post-may well have been a bit of stagecraft
cooked up by the government. (In a country paranoid about
Romanian revanchism, the protesters flew a Romanian flag over
the Parliament building.) In the Iranian case, meanwhile, the
people tweeting about the demonstrations were almost all in the
West. “It is time to get Twitter’s role in the events in Iran right,”
Golnaz Esfandiari wrote, this past summer, in Foreign Policy.
“Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran.” The
cadre of prominent bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan, who
championed the role of social media in Iran, Esfandiari
continued, misunderstood the situation. “Western journalists
who couldn’t reach-or didn’t bother reaching?-people on the
ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language
tweets post with tag #iranelection,” she wrote. “Through it all,
no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate
protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than
Some of this grandiosity is to be expected. Innovators tend to
be solipsists. They often want to cram every stray fact and
experience into their new model. As the historian Robert
Darnton has written, “The marvels of communication
technology in the present have produced a false consciousness
about the past–even a sense that communication has no
history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the
days of television and the Internet.” But there is something else
at work here, in the outsized enthusiasm for social media. Fifty
years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social
upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what
activism is.
,..reensboro in the early nineteen-sixties was the kind of
&.. •place where
racial insubordination was routinely met
with violence. The four students who first sat down at the lunch
counter were terrified. “I suppose if anyone had come up behind
me and yelled ‘Boo,’ I think I would have fallen off my seat,”
one of them said later. On the first day, the store manager
notified the police chief, who immediately sent two officers to
the store. On the third day, a gang of white toughs showed up
at the lunch counter and stood ostentatiously behind the
protesters, ominously muttering epithets such as “burr-head
nigger.” A local Ku Klux Klan leader made an appearance. On
Saturday, as tensions grew, someone called in a bomb threat,
and the entire store had to be evacuated.
The dangers were even clearer in the Mississippi Freedom
Summer Project of1964, another of the sentinel campaigns of
the civil-rights movement. The Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee recruited hundreds of Northern,
largely white unpaid volunteers to run Freedom Schools,
register black voters, and raise civil-rights awareness in the
Deep South. “No one should go anywhere alone, but certainly
not in an automobile and certainly not at night,” they were
instructed. Within days of arriving in Mississippi, three
volunteers-Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew
Goodman-were kidnapped and killed, and, during the rest of
the summer, thirty-seven black churches were set on fire and
dozens of safe houses were bombed; volunteers were beaten,
shot at, arrested, and trailed by pickup trucks full of armed men.
A quarter of those in the program dropped out. Activism that
challenges the status quo-that attacks deeply rooted
problems-is not for the faint of heart.
What makes people capable of this kind of activism? The
Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam compared the Freedom
Summer dropouts with the participants who stayed, and
discovered that the key difference wasn’t, as might be expected,
ideological fervor. “All of the applicants-participants and
withdrawals alike-emerge as highly committed, articulate
supporters of the goals and values of the summer program,” he
concluded. What mattered more was an applicant’s degree of
personal connection to the civil-rights movement. All the
volunteers were required to provide a list of personal contactsthe people they wanted kept apprised of their
activities-and participants were far more likely than dropouts
to have close friends who were also going to Mississippi.
High-risk activism, McAdam concluded, is a “strong-tie”
This pattern shows up again and again. One study of the Red
Brigades, the Italian terrorist group of the nineteen-seventies,
found that seventy per cent of recruits had at least one good
friend already in the organization. The same is true of the men
who joined the mujahideen in Mghanistan. Even revolutionary
actions that look spontaneous, like the demonstrations in East
Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, are, at core,
strong-tie phenomena. The opposition movement in East
Germany consisted of several hundred groups, each with
roughly a dozen members. Each group was in limited contact
with the others: at the time, only thirteen per cent of East
Germans even had a phone. All they knew was that on Monday
nights, outside St. Nicholas Church in downtown Leipzig,
people gathered to voice their anger at the state. And the
primary determinant of who showed up was “critical
friends”-the more friends you had who were critical of the
regime the more likely you were to join the protest.
So one crucial fact about the four freshmen at the Greensboro
lunch counter-David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell
Blair, and Joseph McNeil-was their relationship with one
another. McNeil was a roommate of Blair’s in A. &T.’s Scott
Hall dormitory. Richmond roomed with McCain one floor up,
and Blair, Richmond, and McCain had all gone to Dudley
High School. The four would smuggle beer into the dorm and
talk late into the night in Blair and McNeil’s room. They would
all have remembered the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, the
Montgomery bus boycott that same year, and the showdown in
Little Rock in 1957. It was McNeil who brought up the idea of
a sit-in at Woolworth’s. They’d discussed it for nearly a month.
Then McNeil came into the dorm room and asked the others if
they were ready. There was a pause, and McCain said, in a way
that works only with people who talk late into the night with
one another, ”Are you guys chicken or not?” Ezell Blair worked
up the courage the next day to ask for a cup of coffee because he
was flanked by his roommate and two good friends from high
he kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like
this at all. The platforms of social media are built
around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being
followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool
for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up
with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in
touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on
Facebook, as you never could in real life.
This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in
weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed.
Our acquaintances-not our friends-are our greatest source of
new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the
power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous
efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation,
interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers
and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But
weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
In a new book called “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective,
and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social
Change,” the business consultant Andy Smith and the Stanford
Business School professor Jennifer Aaker tell the story of
Sameer Bhatia, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur who came
down with acute myelogenous leukemia. It’s a perfect
illustration of social media’s strengths. Bhatia needed a
bone-marrow transplant, but he could not find a match among
his relatives and friends. The odds were best with a donor of his
ethnicity, and there were few South Asians in the national
bone-marrow database. So Bhatia’s business partner sent out an
e-mail explaining Bhatia’s plight to more than four hundred of
their acquaintances, who forwarded the e-mail to their personal
contacts; Facebook pages and YouTube videos were devoted to
the Help Sameer campaign. Eventually, nearly twenty-five
thousand new people were registered in the bone-marrow
database, and Bhatia found a match.
But how did the campaign get so many people to sign up? By
not asking too much of them. That’s the only way you can get
someone you don’t really know to do something on your behal£
You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry,
because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek
swab and-in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow
is a good match for someone in need-spend a few hours at the
hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it
doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean
spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup
trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched
norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that
will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.
The evangelists of social media don’t understand this
distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the
same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in
Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a
segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “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. The Facebook page of
the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have
donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest
Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have
donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has
2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A
spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek,
“We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy
movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful
mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their
community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can
measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, 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.
We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.
he students who joined the sit-ins across the South
during the winter of 1960 described the movement as a
“fever.” But the civil-rights movement was more like a
military campaign than like a contagion. In the late nineteenfifties, there had been sixteen sit-ins in various cities throughout
the South, fifteen of which were formally organized by civilrights organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and CORE. Possible
locations for activism were scouted. Plans were drawn up.
Movement activists held training sessions and retreats for
would-be protesters. The Greensboro Four were a product of
this groundwork: all were members of the N.A.A.C.P. Youth
Council. They had close ties with the head of the local
N.A.A.C.P. chapter. They had been briefed on the earlier wave
of sit-ins in Durham, and had been part of a series of
movement meetings in activist churches. When the sit-in
movement spread from Greensboro throughout the South, it
did not spread indiscriminately. It spread to those cities which
had preexisting “movement centers”-a core of dedicated and
trained activists ready to turn the “fever” into action.
The civil-rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also,
crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment
mounted with precision and discipline. The N.A.A.C.P. was a
centralized organization, run from New York according to
highly formalized operating procedures. At the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King, Jr., was
the unquestioned authority. At the center of the movement was
the black church, which had, as Aldon D. Morris points out in
his superb 1984 study, “The Origins of the Civil Rights
Movement,” a carefully demarcated division oflabor, with
various standing committees and disciplined groups. “Each
group was task-oriented and coordinated its activities through
authority structures,” Morris writes. “Individuals were held
accountable for their assigned duties, and important conflicts
were resolved by the minister, who usually exercised ultimate
authority over the congregation.”
This is the second crucial distinction between traditional
activism and its online variant: social media are not about this
kind of hierarchical organization. Facebook and the like are
tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure
and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules
and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central
authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties
that bind people to the group are loose.
This structure makes networks enormously resilient and
adaptable in low-risk situations. Wikipedia is a perfect example.
It doesn’t have an editor, sitting in New York, who directs and
corrects each entry. The effort of putting together each entry is
self-organized. If every entry in Wikipedia were to be erased
tomorrow, the content would swiftly be restored, because that’s
what happens when a network of thousands spontaneously
devote their time to a task.
There are many things, though, that networks don’t do well.
Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their
hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one
believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is
best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system.
Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure
and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching
consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they
are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make
difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical
direction when everyone has an equal say?
The Palestine Liberation Organization originated as a network,
and the international-relations scholars Mette EilstrupSangiovanni and Calvert Jones argue in a recent essay in
International Security that this is why it ran into such trouble as
it grew: “Structural features typical of networks-the absence of
central authority, the unchecked autonomy of rival groups, and
the inability to arbitrate quarrels through formal
mechanisms-made the P.L.O. excessively vulnerable to outside
manipulation and internal strife.”
In Germany in the nineteen-seventies, they go on, “the far more
unified and successful left-wing terrorists tended to organize
hierarchically, with professional management and clear divisions
oflabor. They were concentrated geographically in universities,
where they could establish central leadership, trust, and
camaraderie through regular, face-to-face meetings.” They
seldom betrayed their comrades in arms during police
interrogations. Their counterparts on the right were organized
as decentralized networks, and had no such discipline. These
gr …
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