Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Strength of Tweet Ties

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, September 28 2010

Down in our comments, North Carolina organizer and general online doer Ruby Sinreich points to a nice post from University of Maryland (Baltimore) sociologist Zeynep Tufekci in which she makes a learned case that Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece yesterday on modern activism is giving insufficient weight to the relationships that exists between people who don't know each other that well. In the '70s, you might know, Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter taught us that these "weak ties" are the way in which many of us get the jobs that we do. Tufekci argues that they can also be the glue that holds together networks, themselves of some valuable strength. Here's Tufekci:

One, the key issue facing activists who wish for real social change is the mismatch between the scale of our problems (global) and the natural scale of our sociality (local). This is a profound problem and more, less, social media is almost certainly a key element of any solution. Second, the relationship between weak and strong ties is one of complementarity and support, not one of opposition. Gladwell has written about weak and strong ties before and continues a tradition of contrasting them as ontological opposites, somehow opposing and displacing each other. That is a widespread conceptual error and rests upon an inadequate understanding of these concepts. Large pools of weaker ties are crucial to being able to build robust networks of stronger ties – and Internet use is a key to this process.

This question of the nature of the new (media) relationships formed/maintained/grown on Twitter, Facebook, or what-have-you, and what they mean for modern social organizing and the future of political change is, in my humble opinion, a wonderful debate.

And to stretch a bit, the-nature-of-our-ties has implications not only in activism, but, I think, on much of our modern lives. Take the evolution of news and media, for example. Part of Eli Pariser's take on what he calls "filter bubbles" includes a mention of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg saying that, "a squirrel dying in front your house may be more relevant to your interests right now that people dying in Africa." There's a good chance that Zuckerberg's right; we're not always the most thoughtful of creatures, and that's more or less the business model behind such projects as Outside.in.

But a tweak on that is that the squirrels of our interest aren't necessarily defined by geography anymore, whether we're talking about news or our political interests. Ruby Sinreich, for example, I've met in person only a handful of times, but I follow her on Twitter. The two interactions -- infrequent passing interactions offline and our near daily reading of each other's thoughts online -- seem, to borrow and slightly twist a phrase from Tufekci, "one of complementarity and support." We have a good deal in common, even if we live hundreds of miles apart. That's a sort of relationship that seems neither particularly strong nor particularly weak, but one that's absent from Gladwell's take on the nature of modern activism.

For more on this topic, the Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal has a great round-up of his commenters' thoughts on Gladwell's piece.

Update: We've reposted Zeynep Tufekci's full piece here.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

More