Malcolm Gladwell earned himself some enemies and a moment or two in the social media spotlight when he wrote “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” in the New Yorker in October 2010. Gladwell contends that Facebook and Twitter “can’t provide what social change has always required.” He stirred up controversy by claiming revolutions in Iran and Moldova were not “Twitter” revolutions at all. Gladwell has come back into the fray with his commentary on the protests in Egypt.
“ ‘High risk’ social activism requires deep roots and strong ties. But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protestors may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another.” Gladwell contends that Twitter won’t bring down a regime – an assertion which very few would argue with anyway. But he takes issue with those who would say that social media does, in fact, influence revolution.
Gladwell dismisses social media, writing, “People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.” But as Ari Melber points on in a post for NPR, “But when Gladwell simply announces that how people communicate is ‘less interesting’ than why, he's just stating his personal, editorial preference as accepted fact. The banal reality is that different people find different things interesting.”
And some do, in fact, find it interesting to know how those in Egypt managed to plan and execute such large scale protests. Social media has played a role in that, as well as in the perception of the protests on the worldwide stage. Facebook and Twitter are not the root cause of the unrest – and no one really seems to think so, which takes the air out of Gladwell’s argument.