Andrew K. Woods is a Climenko Fellow at Harvard law school and co-editor of the forthcoming book, Understanding Social Action, Promoting Human Rights. He is also the author of a very thought provoking commentary in today’s Edmonton Journal (Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011).
Basically Woods argues that, although social media such as Facebook and Twitter represent weak social ties, that is enough to fuel a revolution because REVEALING THE STATUS QUO MAY BE ENOUGH TO CHANGE IT.
Woods reminds us “about a phenomenon called pluralistic ignorance — situations in which people keep their true preferences private because they believe their peers do not or will not share their beliefs.” “…In such situations, rapid shifts in behaviour can occur with the mere introduction of information about actual peer preferences. Acting on this authority — the authority of one’s peers — is a powerful phenomenon.”
“Here, then, is the power of Facebook (and other social media). Not only does social networking give demonstrators a tool for quick co-ordination, but it reveals important information about peer preferences. It offers a platform to say “you are not alone; see you in Tahrir Square (Cairo).” And tipping points can be as tiny as a tweet. That small, silly act is what in politics we call solidarity. It is the basis for all social movements.”
Let me add some thoughts of my own. For many years political parties and agents, and the media, stereotyped us, labeled us, and isolated us from each other. In one party, “workers” were the insiders and “employers” were the others, to be feared. But in another party, the opposite was true. From party to party and from time to time different labels were used and each of us, as citizens, were encouraged to accept the labels we were given, live by the label, be isolated from fellow Albertans by the label, and be fearful of others because of the label.
What social media sometimes does is cause us to disregard labels, relate to others as persons, discover that our previously private preference is widely shared, whether we are rural or urban, north or south, employee or employer, young or old….
Perhaps, in Alberta, the ‘sudden’ outpouring of conversation (some of it only 140 characters in length) about democracy, integrity, collaboration, imagination, energy, reflects the excitement of our discovery that, beyond the labels, our peer preferences are similar, and powerful, and constructive.
We are not isolated. We are a community. And the strength of our community grows as we share our previously private beliefs.