Malcolm Gladwell wrote an interesting piece in the latest New Yorker about social media and activism, and fellow Tumblrite modernandmaterialthings wrote an even better summation and response.
Also, this piece from the New York Review of Books is a sobering reminder of the oppression that young intellectuals face in totalitarian regimes. It provides a startling counterpoint to Gladwell’s central thesis — that there is nothing inherently threatening in social networking; so many of the young activists are imprisoned now for demonstrations that exist only in the virtual. It is, perhaps, a luxury of democracy to dismiss the power of social networking; our struggle, particularly amongst those who can afford regular broadband Internet access, is not for the basic right of speech. The voicelessness of the masses still exists across the globe, and the fact that Castro’s Cuba blacklists and imprisons bloggers, and Hugo Chavez shuts down satirical websites, surely speaks to the real threat that these technologies pose.
I don’t mean to be a mindless cheerleader for activism through social networking; obviously, joining a Facebook group is a far cry from effecting real change. But in those areas where truth is dangerous, simply speaking up is an act of real courage, and social networks can provide a broad audience for such efforts. Change comes from the persistent and concerted effort of dedicated activists, yes — but also when the people around them begin to pay attention.