An Analysis of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Small Change”

Armchair activism is inefficient in regards to challenging the status quo. This is the core argument of Malcolm Gladwell’s essay on social media and its effects upon society. I say that Gladwell is correct.

Throughout the article Malcolm consistently returns to discussing the civil rights movement and what is was that allowed for its success. He talks of the hierarchical command structure and how it was able to organize people in such a way that it brought about great change. It is the strong connections amongst protestors, Gladwell argues, which establish a strong foundation necessary for grassroots activism. The author points out the fact that in order to direct the participants of such movements it is imperative that the organization has a clear leader lest it becomes victim to internal strife. Using the Palestinian Liberation Organization as such an example, he demonstrates how a loosely constructed assembly can fall prey to outside manipulation and quarrels from within. This is where the crux of the issue with social networking as a means of organizing is; it creates the types of undefined, leaderless coalitions that fail to achieve meaningful change.

When using Twitter to disseminate information, one only transfers such data to anonymous individuals and other acquaintances as opposed to people with whom they have adhesive ties to. For this reason social networking falls short of old fashioned social protest in making large changes. People avoid high-risk protests when they have the luxury of sitting behind a screen. Instead they will donate half a dollar and fool themselves into thinking they changed the world. Liking a picture on Facebook doesn’t solve starvation in third-world countries nor does it contribute to the resistance of oppressed citizens. What Malcolm does say social networking does is that it can be adequate in bringing about small change. If the goal is to bring an issue to light or to instill fear into a group then it excels. You won’t see, however, a high-stakes revolution prevail because of a 160-character tweet.


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