Tag Archive: Facebook


There’s another debate swirling about the internet; this time it’s regarding social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, and how important they are to social activism.

The debate’s trigger, in this case, was an article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker in which he argues social networks increase activism only by lowering the threshold for participation.  As opposed to the close friendships formed by the American civil rights movement, the weak ties created by social networking sites are a waste of resources. At best, Gladwell argues, they’re only good for tasks like helping “Wall Streeters” retrieve cell-phones stolen by teenaged girls.

Needless to say, the article proved controversial. Twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone responded promptly, calling Gladwell’s article “laughable.” Others, notably in the New York Times, had more productive responses.

If there’s something that can be extracted from Gladwell’s article, it’s that Twitter and Facebook are just tools. Their effectiveness depends on the humans using them, and even good use doesn’t  guarantee success. In Iran, the twitter-casted Green Movement proved unable to overcome the military might and organization of the Revolutionary Guard. Moldova’s 2009 unrest, which included the use of Facebook and other social networking sites to organize, resulted in rioting and reprisals that left the nation fractured. Twittering is no match for the barrel of a gun. Nor is it a guarantee against anarchy.

What Gladwell misses, however, is that strong and weak ties aren’t mutually exclusive; they bolster one another.

As has been mentioned, the rights movement didn’t deconstruct Jim Crow on guts and grit alone. Activists had help from a powerful new technology: the television, which made the brutality and hypocrisy undergirding Jim Crow embarrassingly public. It was television, and the media coverage starting with the 1964 Freedom Summer murders, that helped provide the public support President Lyndon B. Johnson needed to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In many ways, social networking sites have now supplanted TV  as the go to source for subversive information. During the 2009 Iranian protests, networking sites circumvented the press blackout and distributed news that directly challenged the regime’s version of events. It was social networks that spread footage of protesters on the march and of Neda Agha-Soltan’s death—an event that might have otherwise gone unnoticed in a pre-YouTube age.

So perhaps the revolution won’t be hasn’t been tweeted, yet. Nonetheless, sites like Twitter, when used properly, are a powerful resource; they act like signposts, engaging people who might not otherwise care and connecting those who’d normally lack the means to contribute. A multitude of weakly tied individuals, when combined with a concerted, well organized movement, can prove especially potent, as in the case of Barrack Obama’s presidential  campaign.

A social networking site, therefore, has its uses. But it’s a matter of using that resource in conjunction with others that gets results, whether that be for a revolution or just a humble campaign to save the local community garden.

So maybe you’ve a child, a nephew or niece, or a younger sibling who uses Facebook to communicate and wants you in the loop. Or maybe you’ve an acquaintance that won’t stop pestering you to enlist. Either way, you’re mildly curious about joining, but also concerned about what your page will reveal and to whom.

You’re not alone.

Since its inception Facebook has been embroiled in a string of controversies: once in 2006 for implementing a newsfeed feature that broadcasted users’ remote actions (e.g., like unfriending someone); again in 2009 for making friends lists public by default for anyone to read; and again in early 2010 when an online security consultant Ron Bowles collected then distributed data from 100 million Facebook users.

The site’s continued wrangling over its privacy settings has even earned it some particularly sharp criticism from down under.

Thus Facebook has proven a constant source of anxiety over privacy and raised some serious questions over how much access friends, familiy, prospective employers, or even the law should have to our personal lives. Detractors have accused Facebook of subverting democracy; while supporters have claimed Facebook is merely responding to a natural evolution in societal values. Either way, Facebook has become a flashpoint for controversy in a way which other social networking sites just haven’t.

Despite the controversies, however, Facebook has still managed to grow to become the number-one  social networking site, beating out MySpace in 2008. The site now has over 500 million members and is slated to grow even further.

So how does one deal with this social megalith? How do you keep your private information safe?

Thankfully Facebook has responded to public pressure and provided a new “simplified” array of profile settings to help keep the spooks and stalkers out. Those options aren’t always easy to find; Facebook keeps them buried in separate and unintuitive places. But a little digging can excavate them and allow you to opt out.

If you’re still unsatisfied, there’s always the age-old tactic of taking an alias and posting as a Guy Incognito or an Iam Huiam.