The Revolution Might be tweeted? Possibly?
Here are two articles that give pretty opposing positions on a similar issue. In the first, NY Times reporter Michael Wine tells the story of Chen Xiaofeng, how despite the government’s work to keep her death under wraps, activism through a viral poetry contest to kept her story from falling on deaf ears. In the latter, Gladwell takes a moment to draw upon activism during the civil rights movement to explain how twitter and the internet really don’t help us at all when it comes to starting a revolution. Gladwell even goes as far at the end of his article to sarcastically point out that the internet is mostly used to enforce the rules that are already in place, such as theft. His distaste for the idea of an internet that frees us is seen in his closing paragraph.
“Shirky ends the story of the lost Sidekick by asking, portentously, “What happens next?”—no doubt imagining future waves of digital protesters. But he has already answered the question. What happens next is more of the same. A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls. Viva la revolución”
However, Chen Xiaofeng was the poor daughter of a farmer. She had been inline skating on the Hebei University campus, until a drunk driver struck her and a friend head on. While security chased after the man, he simply shouted the response “My father is Li Gang!”. The incident is one as old as time, the privileged stepping on the rights of those in the lower class. Despite multiple efforts made by the government to cover up the incident from TV, blogs began to hold contests, to see who could incoperate the famous last words “My father is Li Gang!” into classical poetry. This yielded a remix of a poem from Mao that went like this:
“it’s all in the past, talk about heroes, my father is Li Gang.”
This led a popular Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei to actually go interview Ms. Chen’s father and brother, which the popular media had been banned from doing. Thanks to the internet Ms. Chen is finally seeing justice.
However convincing Gladwell is that internet ties are week and that the revolution won’t be tweeted should still pay attention to the news for more stories where it is the internet that causes insight and revolution.