Sword and the Script

Social media: enabling a significant social revolution


The Printing Revolution was the second of six information revolutions in A History of Mass Communication, according to Irving E. Fang.  Print, that is ink on substance, meant knowledge was liberated beyond confines of the memories of a few.

This second information revolution meant “printing lent itself to massive political, religious, economic and personal alterations. We have called these changes the Reformation, the Renaissance, humanism, mercantilism and the end of feudalism,” according to Fang.

That’s a powerful statement because it means print brought the end of feudalism – an end not just to a system of governing, but a society. 

Malcolm Gladwell might argue otherwise since he wrote that
racial reform and protests – revolutions in their own right – occurred long before Twitter or Facebook.  Networking too occurred before Twitter and Facebook but without the speed, velocity and reach. Print has wings now. 


Gladwell’s point that revolution, like civil rights, was a result of people taking physical action, and it’s something that cannot be replicated in the matrix on Twitter.  A few, like Mark Schaefer, agreed with Gladwell’s conclusion.

“Perhaps I am the only blogger around who agrees with Mr. Gladwell,” wrote Schaefer, in a post titled, Is social media creating a generation of cowards?  “Not only do I think the social web is incapable of enabling significant social revolution, it is probably conditioning young people out of the leadership and communication skills they need to lead – or follow – any change at all that requires personal risk.


To the contrary, as we watch the unprecedented
events facilitated by social media unfold in Egypt, we are seeing that social media is in fact enabling a significant social revolution. Further, this is a near replication of events we saw develop in neighboring Tunisia a week earlier.  Yemen and Jordan may be next given the speed of print.


Still it’s a sentiment that continues to be echoed by skeptics:  “I’m so tired of all the back patting over “social media” role in Egypt – it’s feet on the streets not Tweets that counts,” wrote Tom Foremski on Twitter.

That’s true to a point – it’s not the Tweets, per se, that matter, but it is the words and messages they carry.  It’s an efficient exchange of information and ability to rapidly network that has enabled the protestors to organize and coalesce.  No print, no feet.

Provided those words could be shared as efficiently with leaflets or paper airplanes as they are on mobile Twitter apps, then Foremski would be right. If, as Fang suggested, words spawned the Renaissance, perhaps Tweets al-ʿarabiyyah will be the tipping point that sow seeds of doubt in Gladwell’s mind as well.

With the routers in and out of the country plugged, curfew imposed, and the military moving in, the next few days will be telling.  It is clear however, that social media has in fact enabled a significant social revolution.  If the revolution doesn’t succeed this time around, it’s only a matter of time. The courage is a matter of conditioning. 

Tonight, while Schaefer’s generation of cowards get a crash course on the biography of Muhammad Husni Sayyid Mubarak, Brian Solis wrote on Posterous “140 characters is more than enough to convey the struggles of humanity.”  

His comment made me wonder what Glasnost would have looked like on Facebook. 


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2 comments
Frank Strong, MA, MBA
Frank Strong, MA, MBA

@Krista, love the analysis "medium or the message." I think you are absolutely right about the speed: tools have made things move much, much faster. In addition, it's allow us to connect with people we might not ordinarily meet.

Krista
Krista

Great post on an interesting discussion! I think events are unfolding so quickly, that it's difficult to determine what is more powerful, the medium or the message. While social movements occured well before social media, I believe that the speed at which they have been taking place is due in part to the ease of sharing images and messages via online outlets. In the end, I believe it is the content or the message crafted by humans that is more powerful. However, the medium to carry those messages has changed considrably from the days of the printing press.