Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Malcolm Gladwell Is Dead Wrong

I have to say I was perplexed by Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Small Change – Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.”

At the heart of it he seems to be challenging the notion that Social Networks can be a part of Social Activism.


Social Activism needs hierarchical structure vs. the networked topology of Social graphs

Social Activism is a ‘strong-tie’ phenomenon when Social Networks are based on loose or weak ties

Social Activism requires financial or personal risk when most activists (or Slacktivists) on Networks are successful because they ask very little of the participants

And yet, this argument makes so many under lying assumptions it kinda boggles the mind. Gladwell himself defines the reinvention argument that he is disagreeing with as follows:

"With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns"

Why I'm sitting here perplexed is there was nothing in his article to suggest the contrary.

I don't have my Pdh. But I do have personal experience in being intimately involved in my early career with the environmental movement and helped to set an important legal precedent in Greece and in the European Union through the mobilizations and eventual legal case to stop the Acheloos River Diversion Project.

What I learned from that experience is that building a movement for change is much bigger than one communication technology or another. The strategic dynamic was much closer to how I think about network communications vs. traditional mass approaches.

How so?

We weren't about driving awareness for a single message. That wouldn't have led to action.

Rather, our approach was about creating a compelling relate-able storyline and then setting as many small fires in as many locations as possible. And then we watched to see which fires started to grow. The ones that did we threw more wood on and if the moment was right, some gasoline.

That involved local action in some cases, protests in others, Mass media of all different story types both inside and out of Greece as well as legal action on a National level. And there was more.

The question now looking back, is could Social Media have played a dramatic role in our efforts? Of course it could have. In fact, how could it have not?

If we want a more recent example, I look to the G20 protests here in Toronto. At the time I was reading an interesting debate happening between @Chanders and @AnnaTarkov about an article in the New York Times talking about Mass Media's influence over the language of Torture. It centred about a Harvard study that found newspapers had changed their wording of Waterboarding as Torture after America was accused of it. One could debate that this would then over a longer period of time, have influence over the public acceptability and definitions of torture.

I bring this tangent up because INFLUENCE is exactly what we are talking about here. With Social Activism, a core group of activist attempts to influence the wider population to some form of action. What now constitutes a valid action is at the heart of Gladwell's argument. So back to the G20.

It was interesting watching the media coverage over that period of the weekend. It started off with many small articles of police concerns, overviews of the black bloc, what Torontonains should expect, the new powers of the Police etc. When the protests got ugly, I saw a complete disconnect between what was being reported on Twitter on the ground vs. the mass media. It was pretty astounding. On the one hand, you see videos of peaceful protesters suddenly getting attacked by police for seemingly no reason, all the while the mass media was mostly reporting out of control protesters.

However, as the stories grew and the evidence of photos, videos and first person accounts from 'trusted' sources like Steve Pakin, I could actually see the media start to become more critical. They started to question police accounts and began to report the Social Media from on the street. It shifted their coverage and I would suggest then shifted the overall public perception over time (although the truth is many people still dismissed the later coverage). If this isn't what political activists hope to do, then I don't know what is?

Ok, so I get that this is hardly a rock solid research methodology and in fact, I would love it if some PhD student out there decided to start looking at the impact of Social Media on Mass Media converge and it's subsequent influence on political discourse and activism.

But to get back to the heart of the matter - to dismiss Social Media as a tool within an Activists arsenal simply based on the fact that in all cases it won't physically mobilize people ready to die for a cause....???

Well, while it might make a great New Yorker article, I think it's full of flaws and just dead wrong.


lots of great commentary on his post from others

Anil Dash
Sam Ladner

The Atlantic Readers

Friday, 17 September 2010

Social Innovation & The Technology Of Change

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. (Margaret Mead)
One of the reasons I have always loved digital communications has been its ability to bring groups together for social change (which includes my own passion project It's Time To Shout). The first consulting project I got after my time at the Agency, was doing the corporate giving approach for one of the largest food brands in Canada. At that time, Corporations and the technology itself wasn't ready to be embraced as a core of a strategic execution. But the times, as Bob would say, are a changin'.

Let's talk "Social Innovation". There are many definitions but I'll give you my own:

SOCIAL INNOVATION: Businesses, platforms and programs built for positive change and social good

What I love most about it is the necessary connections of people on a deeper level. It's not just about 'common interests' but rather what DRIVES me. Some believe it's happening because the development of a 'Passion Economy', others look to the advent of Emotive Networks .

What ever the reason, Social Good, Social Entrepreneurship is every where.

Case and point, a new start up called If We Ran The World. (found via Ms. Oonie)

It's a simple of enough idea on the surface. Just put your good intention into the box and press click. The site either connects you with others who are already doing something about it, lets you start your own action plan or utilize what they call "micro actions" (I haven't really figured out how that one works yet).

While that may explain the function of it, I think their Founder Cindy Gallop's words are far more important for what's really going on on a deeper level - Once you take that simple action of typing some words, you are somehow forced to question yourself almost immediately (as the site goads you to action):

"What's your responsibility?"

The notion of Social Entrepreneurship is not just about doing good - it's about being good as well as being a business and making money all the while. In the past, companies used to ask themselves how can they afford Corporate Social Responsibility, but now they are beginning to understand that they cannot afford NOT to participate in the drive for change in this world.

There are many recent examples of brands jumping on board. They seem to be finally realizing the power to move and connect people (examples here, here and here) is a fundamental dynamic of our new networked society and one that brands can no longer afford to ignore.

So, don't be scared. Maybe it's time to ask yourself the question too. If you ran the world, what WOULD you do?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

My Cognitive Surplus: It's Time To Shout & The Story Of Elana Waldman

The last six months has been probably one of the most life changing periods of my life.

I’ll try the abbreviated version. I saw a video on Facebook of a friend of mine’s wife, Elana Waldman. Elana was talking about the fact that she had Ovarian Cancer and the reason that no one really knew about OC is because they’re were so few survivors.

For some reason, I couldn’t get the video out of my head. It actually bothered me. So one day I woke up and had an idea. If the awareness was low because there were so few advocates, then what we should do is get all the people who are alive right now affected by OC to put their stories up in one place – a living collective and memorial to speak for all women who have and might have ovarian cancer.

Elana and Mark loved the idea and www.itstimetoshout.com was born.

But the story doesn’t end there. At the time I had suggested this concept, Cancer hadn’t really touched my life in a fundamental way. But two months into the development of the project (with a whole lotta help from all my amazing friends), my own father got a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer. Five months later, and about two weeks before our site actually launched my father died.

Bruce Mau has a quote, “Let Events Change You” and that is exactly what happened to me. It was a life changing, stop you in your tracks kinda life moment. A 32 year old woman who has a husband and a two year old daughter gets Ovarian Cancer and is fighting for her life. A seventy seven year old Doctor who happens to be my dad gets Pancreatic Cancer and five months later I am next to his lifeless body and saying a final good-bye.

Life my friends, is very short and can change in an instant.

My friend Lianne asked me if this got me thinking more about death and in fact, it hasn’t. What it’s gotten me thinking more about is - LIFE.

What do I want to spend the next forty years (Gd willing) doing with my time?

And that brings me to Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus that I recently finished reading. Ok that’s certainly more weird timing. It’s a book all about our free time, what we choose to do with it and how we connect that to what we share of our lives. Not only as individuals but as a society and culture as a whole.

As he puts it,

“The cognitive surplus, newly forged from previously disconnected islands of time and talent, is just raw material. To get any value out of it, we heave to make it mean and do things. We aren’t just the source of the surplus; we are also the people designing its use, by our participation and by the things we expect of one another as we wrestle together with our new connectedness.”

I love the fact that Shirky doesn’t just skim the surfaces but makes the work readable all the same. And while I think he probably meant this as a business book, I think that anyone who is looking to use social technologies to further social change should really take a look.

As for me, I’ll take a number of lessons as we do our next phase of outreach for It’s Time To Shout. Twitter has been an incredible platform for us and it’s not just about the number of “followers” we’ve managed to connect with having only launched a few weeks ago (over 150) or our Radian 6 reach (over 550,000).

It’s about the conversations and connections between Elana and the community of people who are touched by Ovarian Cancer and what our movement can mean to all of them.

For more on our project please go to visit our site to see Elana’s Story at:

Follow us on Twitter at

Check out her video blog on Chatelaine.com

And for Clay Shirky’s new book check it out on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Cognitive-Surplus-Creativity-Generosity-Connected/dp/1594202532

Real Time Web Analytics