Should Twitter Win the Nobel Peace Prize?

Mark Pfeifle, a former U.S. national-security adviser thinks Twitter’s role in helping students in Tehran organize a protest against the Iranian government deserves the prestigious award.  Are we moving into an age where social change and activism begin with a tweet?

Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article “Small Change”, shuns this notion because of the inherently weak social ties found online.  He writes, “Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with.”

Gladwell believes that historically, activism is based on strong relationships with fellow revolutionists, a facet not usually present online.  Real social change, like the kind of change that happened during civil rights movement, requires deep, personal relationships that just can’t be formed online.

Social media, however, does offer a positive contribution to social change.  Mark Granovetter observes; “Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information, and is…  Social media is “terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions…”  The idea for the next revolution, just might be in one’s digital network.

Gladwell summarizes by writing, “[Social media] shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.”

As AC4D works to create social change, and maybe even a design revolution, focusing on building a social media network is important for cultivating new ideas and finding out what other  social innovators are doing. But if we’re looking for a real revolution, we’re not going to find it in a retweet.