The Need for Hierarchy

In an ever growing world with out it

Social media has transformed the way individuals communicate and interact with each other. The need for face to face conversation has fallen to the wayside behind Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But what does this revolution in technology offer besides an outlet for communication? “The Hive” by Marshall Poe, discusses Wikipedia, which is a perfect example of a website that is run without any hierarchical presence. On the other hand, Malcolm Gladwell in his article, “Small Change,” demonstrates his beliefs that social media creates an array of weak ties through the lack of authority by describing a revolutionary sit in that took place in the 1960’s. Using these two articles, you can see the framework behind social media critiqued in two very different lights. I believe that authority is necessary for creating strong ties, promoting risk taking, and is essential for any sort of groundbreaking revolution to take place, which are all things social media can not offer.

Risk Taking

The type of activism that was displayed at Greensboro, North Carolina was what Gladwell considers to be “high risk”.

“Boycotts and sit ins and nonviolent confrontations-which were the weapons of choice for the civil-rights movement-are high risk strategies” (Gladwell). Unlike social media, not every single voice is heard and the group does not reach a consensus. If even one single person deviated from the plan at the Greensboro sit-ins, the whole legitimacy of the boycott would of been compromised. Because of this, it is considered high risk. Activism that takes place on social media, is considered low risk because it does not teeter the line of losing its credibility. Wikipedia is an example of a low risk website. Since Wikipedia is built on consensus and the voices of other people, there is really no one person to take accountability for its entries. Each edit on Wikipedia is instantaneously edited again by more users, “Instead of relying on experts to write articles according to their expertise, Wikipedia lets anyone write about anything” (Poe). With so many people adding on to the pages, you never have to worry if what you posted is correct because someone will have your back and fix it for you. You are not fully committed to your entry because someone is always going to be there to fix it for you; there is no consequence. Whereas the sit ins in Greensboro or similar boycotting situation, their is real risk. Standing up against society, thousands of people crammed together in small spaces, and active police officers trying to take control; that is real risk. Social media and it’s like, do not allow for any high risk situation to take place, which are pivotal for activism to take place.

Strong Ties

With the evolution of social media, people across the world can connect to each other which are all connections that normally would not take place. Yes, those connections are made, which is extraordinary, but there is no way for those ties to be as close as the friend you actually see in person on a regular basis.

According to Gladwell, “the platform of social media are built around weak ties”. All forms of social media allow you to keep track of your acquaintances online and allow you to follow other people, or be followed, by people you never normally would (Gladwell). But those people aren’t really part of your life. Social media tricks us into thinking Facebook friends means friends in real life. We see they liked our most recent post, so we think they like us, but this isn’t the case. This distant “relationship” is a weak tie. It’s a weak tie because that commitment to one another, is not there. If one of your Facebook friend’s grandfather died, would you go to the funeral? Weak ties hardly ever form into strong, meaningful, lasting friendships. Gladwell discusses the sit ins that took place in Greensboro, North Carolina in his article and the strong ties that were present between every individual. Strong ties are what pushed the original four activists, into sticking together and having their movement spread. If each student did not have the other sitting next to them, giving them the support of their physical presence and knowing they weren’t in it alone, the sit in that spread across the south, probably would never of happened. Social media can never allow for this type of connection.


On a much bigger scale than just friendships, one can dissect how strong and weak ties play into activism.

“Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies” (Gladwell).

Networks are built on consensus; many voices all trying to be heard at once. However with so many voices at once, the ties get weaker and some voices get drowned out. If someone is trying to create a powerful movement, having hundreds of voices all at once, does not create a clear sound. “How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has equal say?” (Gladwell). With such a high risk endeavor, like activism, making sure everyone sticks to a set script, is pivotal. That is why having clear cut authority is so strongly desired. Having one person, or a small group, leading everyone else is a way to ensure everyone sticks to the same script. If every person has a say, they will do whatever they want but having a leader enables you to set strict, enforceable rules that everyone can follow. Social media unfortunately has no set hierarchy. The weak ties and lack of leadership pushing people into the right direction, does not create an ideal situation for activism to arise. Social media allows for many people to participate but with more people participating, the less that is asked of each person. Gladwell even discusses monumental activism such as Martin Luther King Jr. when he did a boycott in Birmingham, and states that, “ The things that King needed in Birmingham-discipline and strategy-were things that online social media cannot provide.” I believe that strong ties and a set hierarchy allows for activism to be the most successful it can be.

The Greensboro sit ins started by four black students being refused service and within days the protest had expanded outside of the students at the school; within a week the protest had grown to six hundred people ranging from 25 miles away. Eventually the protest had crossed state lines and by the end of the month, sit ins were taking place at different locations all over the south. The sit ins that started in Greensboro began a revolution in the south, spreading across people from different schools, towns and states. The amazing thing about this act of activism is; it took place way before social media was created.

“These events in the early sixties became a civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of the decade-and it happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or twitter” (Gladwell).

A Hands Off Revolution

A complete revolution was created through these four college students who were tired of being told where they could and could not sit. Instead of Tweeting, making a wall post, or direct messaging someone online, they took action in real life. Word was able to spread through their physical actions as opposed to someone sharing their story online. Yes, social media would have allowed the sit-ins to be spread across the world, not just the south, and at a faster rate, but this spreading of information would have come at a price. When more and more people are virtually involved with something, the level of effort each individual puts in, decreases. Think of it this way; if you and three of your friends went in on a pizza that cost twenty dollars, it would cost significantly less for each individual than if you and only one person split the cost. This same concept is addressed here, “Social networks are effective at increasing participation-by lessening the level of motivation that participant requires” (Gladwell). If social media was around when the sit-ins in Greensboro began, I do not believe that there would have been as many people actually physically sitting on the ground outside of establishments. There would not of been as many people actually putting their lives at stake. Social media allows for a hands off revolution. People would of been able to share, and tweet and post all about these sit-ins, and they would think that they were contributing to the cause, but how many would’ve actually been there in person sitting at the lunch counter? Social media does not allow for the same kind of revolutionary aspect that was around before it’s time.

But, Why Does It Matter?

The world is progressively moving into a social media world. It is becoming more and more unheard of for someone not to have a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account. It is important to understand the necessity for hierarchy in today’s world because of the increasing prevalence of a tool that takes away that hierarchy. Social media thrives on the idea of complete and total consensus from individuals, which is not what the world needs to make a difference. If you want to chat with all your friends about the new sale going on at the mall, social media is great, but if you want to make a big statement in the world, social media could be the downfall. Social media does not allow for true commitment from its followers because it promotes weak ties. Social media is a low-risk model that lacks strong ties and leadership, which are two of the most important aspect to any boycott or sit-in How could anyone make the difficult decisions about strategy or tactics, when every single person has an equal say. Social media, “ makes it easier for activists to express themselves but harder for that impression to have an impact” (Gladwell). If we want to really make an impact in the world and create revolutions for what we believe in, we need to steer away from using social media and stick to the traditional form of activism that has been so successful for us up until this point.

Works Cited

Gladwell, Malcolm. “Small Change.” Animals of Innovation, 2010. Web. 12 June 2016.

Poe, Marshall. “The Hive.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Monthly Group, 2016. Web. 29 May 2016.