article "Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted," revisits an argument it seems like we in the activism community have been having for quite a while. While it can only be good to open the debate up to the masses who read the New Yorker, Gladwell misses the target. In the debate on digital activism, Gladwell and most commentators on `social media for social action' elevate the "digital" as opposed to the "activism." Digital tools are now a permanent part of our toolkit (whether we're managing discrete actions, campaigns or movements), and can be leveraged effectively whenever they are appropriate and accessible. Sometimes they're necessary to a campaign and sometimes they are not (particularly where their use would jeopardize the safety of the activists or the viability of the campaign). But that's it. They're tools.
Gladwell's distinction between hierarchical vs. decentralized movements is a very necessary one-- but the claim that all offline activism is centralized while all campaigns that rely on digital tools are ad hoc and without direction, is a rather sweeping and strange argument. All campaigns within a movement require strategy and stewardship, through communications structures that are either horizontal or vertical. Again, the tools might allow for new forms of communications which help create flatter campaigns-- but thinking that successful online campaigns don't have centralizing nodes is a bit naive. Furthermore, despite his exploration of social movements, Gladwell's dismissal of decentralized networks as automatically ineffective can't have taken into consideration examples of the communications networks that underpinned historical wide-sweeping movements like the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, The Underground Railroad, or the network of safe houses for Jews in WWII. (And anyway, isn't there some truth that those of us who try to organize campaigns hope that elements will in fact decentralize and embed to become cultural norms?)
By continuing to argue the merits of "twitter activism," I think we're all now starting to miss the point. The way a campaign engages empathizers, influencers and activists-- whether based on what Gladwell notes as weak or strong ties-- is really more a matter of strategy-- issue identification, context, methodology, desired action, outcome, etc. Use and application of digital tools is a tactical concern-- important, but not the endpoint. And so Gladwell creates a false distinction when he claims it is the nature of the tool that creates strong or weak ties. I would argue it's the content and the context that determines and strengthen ties. The medium is not the message here.