Recently, Malcolm Gladwell took on the debilitating effects of social media as an avenue for actual social change by positing that such avenues are generally under-utilized and, more inanely, allow people to “feel” as if they’re doing something rather than actually doing something.
In his examples, he made a point of lambasting social media giant, Twitter. Naturally, Biz Stone, Twitter’s co-founder, took exception and, to “prove his point“, made a point of referring to examples of social media campaigns wherein every tweet to a particular hash tag results in a donation of $0.05 cents to a particular cause, or the accessibility of the platform made political activism more possible. These are, assuredly, positive efforts that no one can reasonably denigrate.
Unfortunately for Mr. Stone, Twitter, and frankly, most social media companies and outlets, such efforts tend to be a rather embarrassing minority rather than a resounding majority. I am certain, however, that the imminent Mr. Stone would counter by saying something along the lines of, “Well? Doesn’t every penny and thought count?” He’s right, it definitely does.
But actions do more than count – they change things.
Can Mr. Stone say with any semblance of a straight face that intermittent and equally spotty social media efforts such as the examples he brings to bear even begin to hold a candle to a true, active, and persistent engagement and motivation of people to ACT for worthy causes?
Or can he with any degree of legitimacy attempt to make the claim that social media has in ANY manner persistently or even significantly contributed to ANY cause at a level that brought the trivecta of awareness, engagement, and action by the masses?
Or would he, in all honesty, as painful as it may be, have to admit that social media, on the whole, is much more concerned with fostering their own growth as gathering places of cultural entertainment and chit-chat rather than leveraging that incredible access and power to effect something all but impossible until now: true, positive, and lasting social change?
Can ANY social media giant step forth to claim they have even attempted to make such a difference? And, more pressingly, why the hell have they not?
I recall very clearly when now leviathan eBay first began requesting ideas for ways to “give back”. I remember it because my suggestions to them (ideas among many similar ones, I’m certain; I could not and would not dare to take credit for it) were part of the motivation for their now regularly scheduled charitable auctions and the associated efforts not only to host and marketing them just as devotedly as their own business, but to give others the platform from which to do the same, no matter what cause they supported.
The same made be said for companies like Kiva, or Free Rice, or Human Translation, or any other such similar sites who, by and large, quietly and without much “community support” from their big social media cousins (or anyone except those who either stumble over them or are sent directly to them by friends INDEPENDENTLY of social media), work every damned day to do what they can do by making use of this amazing and global network.
Malcolm Gladwell’s tirade is both legitimate and timely; as always, he sounds a wake-up call that no one wants to hear because it reminds them that, as beings who share a threatened planet, who are constantly trampling one another in the name of any number of conflicts, and who are forever-and-ever-amen happy to pursue their own success without considering their capability to create success all around them, it’s just too much expense and work to actually commit to being more than a platform. After all, why be responsible for the world when no one (let alone you) thinks you should be, right?
However, like any other global entity, social media networks have an exquisite opportunity to put the power of their accessibility, their popularity, and yes, their leverage to work as a influential and potentially world-changing force for the betterment of any and all causes they may wish to see mitigated, reduced, or simply eradicated.
Mr. Stone, all due respect, I very sincerely and very vehemently beg to differ with you… bluntly, Gladwell is correct in that the vast majority, on any given day, making simple and relatively meaningless gestures have disassociated themselves from not only active social change, but actual, lasting social change. And yes, frankly, despite the intermittent moments of amazement you rightly reference, the vast majority of any day’s interactions on any given social media outlet are pure dross (including my own).
Yes, while it is true that your reality too, can exist, it does so only in very slender, ridiculously rare moments; and this, Mr. Stone, this is the core of the accusation that I find rings true in Gladwell’s words. By way of pointed example, reactions such as your own; which is, itself, based more in self-serving than community or world serving. Frankly, Mr. Stone, I think you just proved Mr. Gladwell’s point.
The only question remaining is… what would, could, or more importantly, WILL you choose to do about it?