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Malcolm Gladwell Is Wrong. Social Media IS Revolutionary

  |  December 20, 2010   |  Comments

Whatever your opinion on the subject of social, one has to admit it's causing a communication revolution.

I'm a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell's work and I'm not alone. He has numerous best sellers, such as "Outliers" and "The Tipping Point" to name a few. That is why it surprises me to see how wrong he is with his assertions about social media. Specifically in an October article in The New Yorker dubbed "Why the revolution will not be tweeted."

Whatever your opinion on the subject of social media (incredible or an incredible waste of time), one surely has to admit it's causing a communication revolution. If you don't believe this, please watch the below video appropriately named "Social Media Revolution."

Today, we the people have access to powerful social communication tools. And isn't communication the lifeblood of most successful revolutions? Yes. It enables assembly, support, and coordination.

"Why does it matter who is eating whose lunch on the Internet? Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all?" Gladwell asked.

Here's why it matters Mr. Gladwell:

2008 election: ironic that Gladwell uses the word "hope" in the above phrase. Whether you like or dislike the way President Obama is currently doing his job, he wouldn't be in the oval office without the help of social media. He, with the guidance of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, revolutionized how political campaigns are now managed. The "hope" movement mobilized a record number of young voters to the polls and to donate to the cause - $500 million was raised with 92 percent of the donations in increments below $100 dollars. Ask Hillary Clinton and John McCain about why it matters if you have your lunch eaten by someone else on the Internet.

WikiLeaks is certainly a hot topic these days. Why so controversial? Because it is designed to watch the unwatchable. Sure, Obama and his team happily sign documents in 2009 dedicated to governmental transparency, but they expected this transparency to be on their terms, certainly not the terms of the "wikirati."

The Washington Post, under the guidance of Pulitzer Prize winner Katharine Graham, faced plenty of pressure from the government during the days of Watergate. But, like good revolutionaries, they went on the attack rather than succumb to governmental pressure.

The same can be said about the hackers recently galvanized by WikiLeaks' bans from corporations. These hackers viewed it as a violation of freedom of speech and quickly spearheaded DNS attacks called "Operation Payback" on PayPal, Visa, and Amazon, actually halting European sales for Amazon.

A DNS attack is analogous to a modern day sit-in. Sixty people sitting in a restaurant that doesn't serve people of color is powerful. But consider how powerful a mobilized DNS attack can be. This is where hundreds of thousands of users send traffic all at once to a particular website (e.g., Visa) and cause their servers to crash. These DNS attacks are mobilized efficiently via tools like Twitter and Facebook. I don't condone these types of attacks, as they are exactly that, attacks, rather than a passive sit-in. They are more analogous to blocking the door to the restaurant. Boycotting certain sites would be a bit more passive.

Wiki is a Hawaiian term that means quick, and several companies use wikis to their advantage. The most well-known is of course Wikipedia, but even Facebook uses wikis to translate its sites to different languages by allowing native speakers to do the site translation for them via a wiki. This is fast and free for Facebook and it's now in 70 different languages.

Want further proof of the global revolution? Look at Carlos Morales of Colombia (as described in David Kirkpatrick's book "The Facebook Effect"). A 35-year-old programmer tired of always living in fear of the guerillas of Colombia better known as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Morales used Facebook to mount a protest. On a single day he was able to get 12 million protestors to march into the streets in various cities across the globe in a sign of unity against the FARC. The guerillas released three hostages (all former Colombian congressmen) as a humanitarian gesture the week leading up to the march.

As Gladwell's question is posed above, let me in kind pose one: If Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube weren't powerful tools, then why do so many governments (including China) block these tools from their populations?

I find it ironic that on The New Yorker Web page on which Gladwell's article appears we see the familiar Twitter "Retweet " and the "Facebook Like" buttons prominently displayed at the top. Therein lies the quandary. Even if one doesn't like the idea of this revolutionary change, you (and even you, Mr. Gladwell) can't resist the power of these simple buttons...can you?


Erik Qualman

Called a Digital Dale Carnegie, Erik Qualman is the author of best sellers Socialnomics (2009) and Digital Leader (2011). Socialnomics made the #1 Best Sellers List in seven countries and was a finalist for "Book of the Year." Fast Company Magazine lists Qualman as a Top 100 Digital Influencer. He is a frequently requested international speaker and has visited 42 countries. He produced the world's most viewed social media video series and it has been used by NASA to the National Guard.

He has been fortunate to share the stage with Julie Andrews, Al Gore, Tony Hawk, Sarah Palin, Jose Socrates (Prime Minister of Portugal), Alan Mulally, and many others. For the past 17 years Qualman has helped grow the digital capabilities of many companies including Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo, and AT&T. He is also an MBA Professor at the Hult International Business School. Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas. He was Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State University and recently gave the commencement address at the University of Texas. He lives in Boston with his wife and daughter.

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