Blog Essay Class 7

Re: the Rampton article – This article discussed propaganda and how it has changed over time, especially since Chomsky and Herman’s book. When talking about the Iraq War, it’s important to note something Rampton and Stauber pointed out—that discussing the deaths and the fallen soldiers was treated in a “sanitized, minimal way.” The photo of the emaciated POW was very moving. The author was right—you really don’t see those kinds of photos widely published anymore. In fact, I would argue you almost NEVER see them, especially not in mainstream media such as CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc. The only time I have ever seen anything like that is on Al-Jazeera, which my parents get via satellite to their home. Regardless, that news platform is not easily accessible to me—I can only view it when I go home. Thus, my choices are very limited if I want to obtain a less “sanitized view” of the war. Why do you think we want to turn a blind eye to the Iraqi death toll? I think it’s a deep-rooted cultural designation—Americans are uncomfortable with facing reality. Whenever I watch the Al-Jazeera channel via satellite, they show more truthful and realistic portrayals of global happenings and especially war/death. The Arab version of Al-Jazeera is rawer than its English counterpart.

It’s a well-known colloquialism that the Vietnam War was widely referred to as “the first televised war.” (This article discusses it in more depth, FYI). President Johnson was quoted as saying, “…I thought of the many times each week when television brings the war into the American home. No one can say exactly what effect those vivid scenes have on American opinion.” I think this sentiment is very much true, if not truer, today. But it has gone beyond traditional mass media formats, such as television and radio—and spilled over into social media. It goes back to the idea from last week’s readings, that everyone can be a maker of the news due to wide accessibilities to various platforms such as blogs and social media that encourage citizen journalism and direct participation. People are free and able to state their opinions about the war or government on their personal websites or Facebook pages, and many do (much to the chagrin of others, especially those on the opposite side of the political spectrum as the person posting the message).

Re: Gladwell’s piece in The New Yorker – I am already very familiar with Malcolm Gladwell and I have read all of his books. I think the way he blends social science research, journalistic techniques and phenomenology is very unique. I think we can all agree with his most basic point, that “new tools of social media have reinvented social activism.” It’s great that social media can help revolutionize the world, but it isn’t always successful. He brings up Iran’s “Green Revolution,” but the problem is that it failed. (“Without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy,” Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security adviser, later wrote, calling for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.) The truth is, social media doesn’t make the impact, WE do. It is simply an impetus or vehicle for inspiring change. I am very glad Gladwell included the quote from Esfandiari, because she’s right. I think it would be interesting to interview people in the Middle East who participated in the “Arab Spring” movement to see how they were feeling when they were tweeting and how they think things have changed or not changed since that time. I am not arguing that Twitter can’t be an amazing piece of technology, but I am arguing that we give it too much credit. If people are truly unsatisfied with something, they’ll find some mode of publicizing that, whether it is simply to stand on a street corner and shout. Gladwell echoes this sentiment, as he employs an introductory discussion/mention of Granovetter’s weak vs. strong ties argument. He’s essentially arguing that social media activism is the lazy man’s activism, and markedly different from “real life” activism of the 1960s which required people to get up and get involved. We can see this in our everyday life—every year, I participate in the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer walk. I fundraise. The preferred (read: easiest) mode of fundraising is to send emails to friends, family, associates, etc. This past October I raised more than $800 with little effort because people are more apt to type their credit card number into a website than to reach into their pocket for some cash. Literally. It’s the same concept that drives our laziness to opt for pizza delivery than to save the extra cash by picking it up at the store. It’s the feeling that websites like Amazon bank from.

There were two articles that responded to Gladwell’s piece. The article by Cheyfritz asks the question: does media matter? Yes, of course it does. But as much as Cheyfritz says Gladwell is missing the point, I think Cheyfritz himself is too. The article by Melber on NPR’s site includes a quote from Gladwell’s follow-up piece that reads: “People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.” I agree with this, as I previously stated and provided an example. Social media is good, as it provides just another platform or outlet for people’s thoughts, feelings, opinions. I don’t fully agree with any of these articles, whether it be Gladwell’s, Cheyfritz or Melber’s. I think they are all in essential agreement with each other by are tearing each other down in a really snarky way (especially Cheyfritz) on small points. Media does matter. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool. But social media is overrated and is being viewed as the end all be all of activism. It’s not.

Re: Shirky’s article – The opening anecdote illustrates how text messages can be useful in inciting an actual revolution, and I think these arguments can be made for both sides (citing the usefulness and then citing the uselessness of social media for activism). But Shirky makes a great qualifying point: “The use of social media tools-text messaging, e-mail, photo sharing, social networking, and the like-does not have a single preordained outcome. Therefore, attempts to outline their effects on political action are too often reduced to dueling anecdotes,” and this is exactly what I was thinking before I even read that part. When the article discussed Hillary Clinton and how participatory new media can increase freedoms, for some reason the first thing I thought of was the meme website Texts from Hillary Clinton.

The bulk of the readings focused on social media such as email, texts, photos, tweets, messages, etc. but what about memes? Can online memes be an impetus for social change?


–       How do you think social media has impacted (or not impacted) the citizens’ response to the Iraq War? Do you think we are more or less apathetic than ever?

–       Why do you think we want to turn a blind eye to the Iraqi death toll?

–       What do you think of Mark Pfeifle’s comment in the New Yorker article by Gladwell (“Twitter should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize”)?

–       Do you think social media activism is motivated by laziness? If not, what do you think it is motivated by?

–       Can online memes be an impetus for social change?

Nicki Karimipour,


2 thoughts on “Blog Essay Class 7

  1. jcrinkley

    I agree with you that our media is “sanitized” in comparison to foreign sources like Al-Jazeera or even the BBC. Do you think that we get a more heavily filtered version of the news as part of a propaganda scheme, or do you think it has more to do with economics in that ratings will drop if news outlets have stories that make Americans feel guilty or unhappy? In other words, is society responsible for forcing the media to water down the news or is the media deliberately trying to create a reality where Americans are never the bad guys? I really struggle to choose which I believe is the case and which is worse if either is true.

    Gladwell and you are probably right that we give social media too much credit because the technology would be nothing if there were not driven individuals to make use of the tools. However, during many of the Arab Spring protests there were people using social media not only to organize but also to spread news of the events around the world even when their governments tried to conceal the events. Under the circumstances that the rebels are facing under oppressive regimes, the power to bring attention to your cause and spread your message locally and globally cannot be under estimated. I don’t think that Twitter deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, but I don’t think that protests like Tahrir Square among others would have been as successful without social media as a tool.

    As far as social media laziness, I think that the motivations tie in with your reasons for why Americans don’t want to hear news about the Iraqi death toll. Our culture makes us want to deny our less than noble deeds and, at the same time, affirm that we are a force for good in the world. Social media activism allows us to think of ourselves as caring and involved in an effort to make the world less terrible even if that effort is extremely minimal.

    Internet memes do nothing but reinforce social media laziness. It something that people can spread around that really does nothing to further the causes that they are inspired by, but it allows people to feel as though they’ve contributed to that cause.

  2. suzette gazette

    I keep going back to the concept in Shirky’s point via Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld:
    “that mass media alone do not change people’s minds; instead, there is a two-step process. Opinions are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. It is in
    this second, social step that political opinions are formed. This is the step
    in which the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can make
    a difference.”

    Whether organizers of protests or movements are motivated to use social media for the reason above, I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell if someone is carrying out their activism through social media alone or using it to reach more people as a supplement to other efforts.

    If someone has never physically marched in a protest but is more comfortable with joining a Facebook page or participating from home it might be considered lazy. Or does social media allow more people to take part in activism because they don’t have to leave their jobs to attend an event or can’t afford to travel to D.C. where an assembly is happening.

    Social media does allow for a globalization of activism for those who want to support effort around the world.

    A recent study by the Pew Research Centers Internet and American Life Project reiterates what we have learned in several readings this semester:

    “Social media has yet to show its supposed promise as a great leveler of American democracy, according to a new study from the Pew Research Centers Internet and American Life Project, which found that sharp divisions in political participation among socioeconomic groups persist despite the presence of Facebook and Twitter.
    Although political activity on social networking sites as a whole increased dramatically between 2008 and 2012, the majority of daily political conversations still take place offline, the Pew researchers found.
    Organizations such as UNICEF are claiming “Slacktivism” is on he rise and they are receiving less donations and volunteerism and more “likes” on Facebook.

    Shirky point that internet users “simply use these tools for commerce, social life, or self-distraction.”

    I tend to agree with the point that there is more to activism than online activity. A person needs to make an effort to physically participate through a donation of time, money or at least a face to face dialogue with other believers in the cause.


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