Shirky Vs Gladwell – where do you stand?

Much has been made recently about social media and its impact on the demonstrations and protests in Iran, Egypt and Tunisia.  How did social networks like Facebook and Twitter affect the flow of information within said countries and out of them?  Did they create the revolution or enable it?

Two well know ‘scholars’ who have debated this issue are Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky.

Malcolm posted his views in this article in the  New Yorker. Clay Shirky exposed his views in articles, but they can be surmised from this TED video

Malcolm in particular has come in for strong criticism from the blogersphere with criticism aimed at what is seen as ‘dinosaur views’.

My personal take is two-fold:

1) The truth is somewhere in the middle

Malcolm is right in that social networks did not create these revolutions.  They happened before social networks and will continue to happen beyond social networks.  Also, the feelings that spark these revolutions (displeasure at ruling parties, poverty, etc) were not created by Facebook/Twitter. However, they did make them happen much quicker.  Essentially they turned them from a tsunami (an undercurrent that may appear small but grows the closer it gets) into a Splash/Rogue Wave (much larger wave that appears much quicker).

2) Malcolm is being contrarian on purpose

The cynic in me suspects that Malcolm ‘true’ view is closer to (1) than most people give him credit for, however in a world where newspapers need to sell stories, offering such a contrarian view and headline will ensure people talk about it and it spread like a Splash Wave.

What do you think?  Who do you agree with?

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