Weak Ties

Malcolm Gladwell wrote last fall how strong ties like friendships are how high risk opposition works. Weak ties like Facebook cannot sustain them. So it is interesting how stories about the Egyptian revolution mention Facebook and Twitter as tooks. Naturally, Gladwell responded by writing, “Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented.” Also, he made the point, “How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.”

Both points are true-ish.

People have brought down governments with stones and swords before the American Revolution. Governments fell before the printing press. Yet we still study how the Americans fought the British both with militias armed with guns and through printed news. Both were astoundingly important to American culture.

Last time I checked, one did not have to pick between who, what, when, where, how, or why. There is not a zero-sum game between how and why. So why being more important than how seems like an odd retort. Maybe Gladwell means people should include the why people joined in protesting? If that is the complaint, then he should have referenced the articles to which he was responding.


  1. Shannon pointed out through a comment the NetworkedBlog app on Facebook on this post this article for the Council on Foreign Affairs: The Political Power of Social Media. (Sorry, the page requires registration to see the whole thing.) Clay Shirky is the author. Malcolm Gladwell mentioned Shirky in the strong ties article. Apparently also wrote a response to this CoFA article too. Apparently these two are going tit-for-tat about this.

    Another interesting take: Why Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky Are Both Wrong and Right. Walter’s point is that both parties are highly biased (and so are wrong) but both have points which seem logical.

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