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, firstname.lastname@example.org