As social media becomes more of a prominent force or even a lifeline in our society today one has to be careful of where convenience overshadows productivity. In Malcolm Gladwell’s article, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” Gladwell creates an argument that challenges the value of social media and its ability to take over the art of activism. Analyzing Gladwell’s rhetorical strategies, his personal background, demographics of his audience, and the effects of his argument on our culture will help to solidify whether his argument is effective in persuading the audience that social media does indeed fall short in the line of high-activism.
In Gladwell’s article, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” he argues that effective activism and real change cannot be executed efficiently through the means of social media. Gladwell constructs his argument by comparing past and current activism among groups and the way it is organized. Gladwell takes his time introducing his argument by first narrating the Greensboro counter sit–ins, an example of real activism, and he continues to reference back to it throughout the text as he makes his argument: “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.” This quote highlights Gladwell’s argument that social media is ineffective and isn’t needed for the success of any revolutions, a great example being the Civil Movement. The narration of the Greensboro sit-ins shines light upon the importance of involvement and organization that are two ingredients for effective activism and distinguish social activism versus the real activism Gladwell writes about. Gladwell highlights numbers or people involved in both sides of his activism argument. As Malcolm, Gladwell writes, “The four still didn’t move…Some seventy thousand students eventually took part,” mentioning these numbers he compares to numbers of the participants found in some social media such as the different Darfur charities which includes “1,282,339 members, 22,073 members, and 2,795 members.” The numbers only symbolize that social media isn’t more effective with more involvement but is dependent upon truly dedicated and active participants like actual activism requires. Gladwell also uses the Civil Rights activism stories to show the difference in organizational strategies. He writes, “The Civil Rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also, crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline.” Gladwell makes a point that high-risk activism was more a battle that was physically fought and required a lot more sacrifice. The actual activism happening in the Civil Rights Movement made more of an impact, unlike Social Media: “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.” (Gladwell). Social media falls short in effective activism due to the lack of organization and quality participation of those involved.
Upon glancing at Gladwell’s resume it is apparent that he has built a solid footing for himself through his education, employment, and commendations, all of which make him a credible and qualified writer. Graduating with a degree in history from University of Toronto’s Trinity College in 1984, Gladwell began his professional career with a rooted interest for global events and their influence on the world. This foundation in history, led to the publishing of his work in The Washington Post, on the matters of business and science. (Malcolm Gladwell). His investment in history is reflected in the “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted” article as he weaves a variety of events to support his argument, events such as: The Civil Rights Movement, The Moldova Twitter Revolution, Save Darfur Coalition, The Red Brigades, as well as many others. After years writing for The Washington Post, a door opened for Gladwell to write for The New Yorker where he immediately flourished in writing articles and gaining an audience, getting him the fuel he needed to publish three international best sellers as well as three national best sellers. In one of his national and international best sellers, The Tipping Point, he discusses the process of change and why it hits like an epidemic, starting out slow and steady then spreads rapidly as more people become exposed. (Malcolm Gladwell). With an emphasis of social epidemics, The Tipping Point parallels “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” where there is exponential change from authentic high-risk activism to the thin and not genuine activism by social media. Gladwell definitely lives up to his accomplishment as one of the Times top 100 most influential speakers as he writes his ironically titled “Small Change” article, which is influenced by his education, employment, and commendations.
Having a colorful involvement in The New Yorker, Gladwell is familiar with his audience, enabling him to construct a more appealing and influential argument. With a total audience of three million people, there are a wide variety of those who are exposed to Gladwell’s work, but more importantly is the exposure of both the general and affluent readers who are of higher education, professionally employed, and financially sound. The general audience is made up of 67% of those who have at least a bachelors degree or higher, 40% in a professional or managerial position, and make an average income of 96,329 dollars a year. As for the affluent audience; however, is a big difference in demographics, the affluent audience have 87% of those who hold bachelor degrees or higher, 62% with a professional or managerial position, and make an average of 156,310 dollars a year. (The New Yorker). Looking at these figures one can make the assumption that education and prestige are valued by The New Yorker, its audience and Gladwell himself. Another tactic he uses to gain respect from his audience is that as he argues, he always makes sure to cite authority and their backgrounds, whether he is mentioning, “The Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam” or “The business consultant Andy Smith.” By citing his authorities, Gladwell becomes more credible and calls to his audience who most likely respect professional status as well as prestigious educational institutes. The education of the audience themselves is important as Gladwell incorporates different references such as; “The Red Brigades” or “Palestine Liberation Organization,” knowing well that the readers will know what he is referring too, in addition to being able to reflect on Gladwell’s argument objectively. (Gladwell). By stating professional status, educational backgrounds, or incorporating various world events, Gladwell is able to appeal to his audience and construct a respectable argument.
“Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted” is relevant to our society today; as social media is found nearly everywhere and can have an influence on anything. When someone attacks social media, it is guaranteed that there will be both divergent and parallel responses. Eric Nee, a writer for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, gives credit to Gladwell for depicting the flaws of social media’s attempt to lead activism, but he also disregards Gladwell, believing him to be completely black and white toward social medias efforts as he comments: “In trying to counter the hype over social media he veers too far in the other direction, all but dismissing them as important new tools.” (Nee, Eric). This quote suggests that Nee believes Gladwell is too caught up in the flaws of social media instead of giving credit for social media as an effective attempt for activism. Agreeing with Nee, would be a writer for the American Behavioral Scientist, Sebastian Valenzuela, who in his article “Unpacking the Use of Social Media for Protest Behavior: The Roles of Information, Opinion Expression, and Activism,” writes, “Social media can influence collective action, such as providing mobilizing information and news not available in other media, facilitating the coordination of demonstrations, allowing users to join political causes, and creating opportunities to exchange opinions with other people.” (Valenzuela, Sebastian). Valenzuela uses this quote to further support medias capability to enforce activism by its ability to gather people and expose them to limitless new ideas. Not everyone is opposed to Gladwell; however, Jon B. Alterman is the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair holder in Global Security and Geostrategy and director of the Middle East Program at CSIS, (Jon B. Alterman). who writes, “Much of electronic networking, by contrast, is built on vast numbers of people taking small-stakes action.” This quote agrees with Gladwell in that social media can only spark a small interest and doesn’t require anyone to gamble and take risks. In Alterman’s article called “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” (Alterman, Jon B). This article is another reference to the revolutions occurring in the Middle East and agree with Gladwell on his position that social media is great for building up excitement and exposing issues, but is still limited at creating a true revolution. Gladwell is also supported in the newspaper, Communications of the AMC, where the pros and cons are weighed between the effectiveness of social media. Dennis McCafferty writes, “A number of respected thinkers say technology does not really advance activism to achieve its most critical goals: to change the hearts and minds of the public, and effect real change.” (McCafferty, Dennis). McCafferty, in his article, argues both sides of social media agreeing with Gladwell that social media cannot bring a full impact on people or ignite change quite like real activism. With those protesting or agreeing with Gladwell it becomes clear that his argument is valid in our society as social media becomes a dominant factor in how we digest information.
After analyzing “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” it is clear that this is an article of substance and definitely could be of value to those invested in what is going on in our society and the inevitable change it continually faces. As Gladwell critiques the potential of social media to become a substitute for true high-risk activism, his argument is enriched and made effectual by the rhetoric devices used throughout the article, the demographics of his audience, Gladwells own personal credentials, and the cultural influence of today’s society.