This session saw tweeple out in force. Panellists Toby Manhire @toby_etc and Vaughn Davis @vaughndavis were chaired by Russell Brown @publicaddress. All three absolutely know their stuff when it comes to social media.
Russell referred to the article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker, 4 October 2010. The premises in this article are:
- The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like the strong activism of the past.
- The platforms of social media are built around weak ties.
- Weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
Toby argued that the Arab Spring and the activism that arose in it proved Gladwell “mostly wrong”.
Would the revolution have happened without the tools Russell asked. Vaughn reckoned if there was social media involved in The Lord of the rings, Frodo would the ring a lot faster.
I liked that Vaughn then mentioned one of my own bug bears, an obsession with the tools themselves. He reckons we should see Facebook and Twitter and the like not as ‘tools’ but as “spaces where people live their lives”. There are always people who are better connected than others, but it’s worth remembering that they have the power to connect with their own communities and the wider world.
The team discussed the difference between what happened in Egypt and what is happening in Syria. Egypt had a lot of bloggers, and consequently it’s not surprising there was 10o times more social media chatter.
The strand of social media activism are mobilisation and dissemination.
Toby talked about the closure of the internet in Egypt leading to 25% more people on the street. Activists were smart, they rode in taxis and talked on phones about meetings and protests. Taxi drivers listened in to their conversations and spread the word.
Kony 2012 was the first big example of slactivism. A 30 minute video from the Hidden Children organisation went viral. Oprah and other key social media people shared it, until “people started to unpick it a bit”. The concept of “Defeat the bad guy by making him famous” seemed to appeal. As Toby observes, “This wasn’t all made up … A lie can get a long way around the world, it can circumnavigate it a couple of times”.
Vaughn said it is native to social media to be human in public … “We all put ourselves in the story”.
There are 150 -200,000 Kiwis on Twitter, therefore it is not a representative group. They (the government) “can’t help but listen to us”. An example is the blackout protest and the consequent dropping of changes to copyright law. Yet as Vaughn says:
Decisions about social media are being made by people who don’t know what it is … It’s odd for a white guy to feel colonised.
The team talked about a potential ban on maliciously impersonating people. This is a form of political speech, as the parody Twitter @DrBrash indicates. Anonymity on the internet can be an excuse to be evil, possibly a troll, but is also a license to speak truth.
Incidents such as the London Riots and bombings have revealed citizen journalists are the ones who disseminate information in real time, and sometimes traditional media just acts as an aggregator. The #eqnz hashtag users after the Christchurch earthquakes proved to be a self-regulating group – false rumours would arise, but the community would then collectively correct them. On the other hand, there was some terrible reportage from mainstream media of unverified information.
At the end of the session I met people I follow on Twitter – @jduvalsmith @nzdodo @moatatamaira and @annagconnell – a little piece of serendipity.
Useful resources related to this session:
- Kony – Toby Manhire links to resources that explain Kony 2012.
- The wisdom of crowds – a seminal work by James Surowiecki subtitled Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economics, Societies, and Nations.
- Tweet this book! by Vaughn Davis