Division of Power and Trust
The division of power and influence of personal relationships govern the structure of the community. Many people agree that a network type of environment does not need a set of rules, however, a point needs to be addressed since so many skeptics of openness still believe a hierarchical structure with a pre-existing set of rules should govern all types of communities.
In Marshall Poe’s article, “The Hive,” he discusses the differences of leadership and relations between people through examples of Wikipedia, a network, and Nupedia, a cathedral.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s article, “Small Change,” he discusses the leadership and relationships between community members from social movements.
In a network-type of community, the relations between the community members dictate whether hierarchy or equality will effectively control the masses. Social activism is an example of a network community that comes in many different forms. The location of power tends to be accommodated with a level of sacrifice and responsibility.
In Marshall Poe’s article, he talks about the struggles Wikipedia endured before it became a common knowledge resource. Jimmy Wales, the creator of Wikipedia, wanted to create an open encyclopedia where anyone could contribute and utilize resources unconditionally (Poe). In a network type of environment, a lack of hierarchy suggests that the online community held the power. People tend to care more about the project when their voices are valued.
The first attempt, the cathedral site, operated much too slow and was losing progress due to competition (Poe). In a cathedral model, the elites controlled the project, therefore, only their voices mattered. Although the elites were dedicated to Nupedia, it failed because the hierarchy structure operated too slow to function with not enough people contributing to the project. The progress was limited because not enough people were contributing to the source.
The second attempt, the bazaar site, had only one elite governing the website, Larry Sanger. The ultimate power was in the people’s hand who decided the credibility of submitted articles. The masses had the ability to self-police and utilize this trusted resource because they trusted each other’s opinions. There was no limitations hindering the project, therefore, suggesting that dispersed power worked best.
The difference between the models prove that hierarchies are the least favorable choice of leadership in a network environment. Where there are more people holding responsibility, there are more contributions put towards the project.
With any amount of power comes high responsibility and accountability.
People who have a high level of responsibility are accountable for their efforts towards to the project. In a hierarchy, selected individuals maintain the power and control. The elites who maintain control tend to have strong connections to one another since they have equal responsibility to their project. These people value and respect one another’s opinion, therefore, making the relations between each members stronger. Similar to Poe’s description of Nupedia, the elite controlled the contents of Nupedia. These people with strong ties believed their reputation would be damaged if they participated in an open forum like Wikipedia (Poe). Since the masses have a greater population, there are generally looser ties connecting one another on the large foundation of common interests.
Strong Ties versus Weak Ties
Many variables characterize the difference between strong ties and weak ties. Strong ties originate from close relations, either in person or through similar viewpoints. In Gladwell’s article, he specifies the close relations between the four black friends trusting and supporting each other through the beginning stages of the sit-in movement. Where there are strong ties, the essence of sacrifice is much higher. The population of protesters had such strong feelings for their beliefs, which created a sense of trust among the community because everyone had similar goals. In a high-risk situation, people with strong ties and viewpoints tend to allow themselves to be put in harm’s way in order to overpower the opposing force. The strong relations to an idea only seemed to magnify as pain and suffering spread among the protesters.
A sense of individuality and trust is lost among the masses, but each member is connected directly to everyone.
An example from Poe’s writing would be the section regarding the edit war between an individual of power and an individual of respect. The Cunc, a single Wikipedian gained more support from other Wikipedians than Sanger had. “Simon Kissane, a respected Wikipedian, accused Sanger of capriciously deleting pages, including some of Cunc’s work” (Poe). Even though Kissane was a member of the respected and active population, he agreed with Cunc because he did not agree with the presence of the elite on Wikipedia. Ultimately, Wales let Sanger go in order to satisfy the requests of the masses and save the reputation of Wikipedia (Poe).
In a network environment, a separation of power between certain individuals may create altercations. The edit war example suggests that network environments require an equal division of power between all members.
Social Activism in Person
Social activism is dependent on the community fighting to change social norms. Gladwell introduced his article with social activism accompanied by strong ties. A group of four black friends supported each other when they began a sit-in protest in Greensboro, North Carolina (Gladwell). They were denied the same privileges as the white folks in the diner, which sparked their protest. Once word of mouth spread, about seventy thousand students joined them across the south. Though these protestors were not connected directly, they were all fighting for equal rights. “All of the applicants- participants and withdrawals alike- emerged as highly committed, articulate supporters of the goals and values of the summer program” (Gladwell).
Even though these individuals participating in the sit-ins were not connected directly, their passion for equal rights was stronger than the people fighting against them.
Before social media, activists were defined by their causes, but now they are defined by their tools (Gladwell). These four black friends did not have the power to create such a social change alone, they needed the support of others who believed in the same messages they did.
The connection between individuals online is loose, but individuals are connected directly. The connection between many individuals in person is few to none, but their strong views connect their purposes. Although the connection between individuals does not matter, the common interests and viewpoints are the identifiers that detect the level of relations between individuals.
Social Activism Online
Common interests connect acquaintances, which Gladwell points out as, “our greatest source of new ideas and information” (Gladwell).
Weak ties are much more common through social media’s environment. Although I agree with Gladwell up to a point, I cannot accept his overriding assumption that the internet creates only weak ties. Users are given the opportunity to develop strong relations to one another, but they must make that decision on their own. Gladwell does not consider the fact that weak ties can develop into strong ties, and making the assumption that the internet relations only produces weak ties is an open-ended statement.
Due to the structure of networks, there are no governing powers of authority that control the online world.
Reporting and blocking other users helps enforce cyber security among the masses without an almighty power determining what is considered right and wrong. Society is constantly changing its values, which allows the masses the resources and tools to police what is acceptable online. Social media tends to be irrepressible and changeable in low-risk situations where little sacrifice is required from all members (Gladwell).
Social media generates decisions through consensus, but it does not rely on the masses to enforce the decisions (Gladwell).
People have the ability to change society, but it must be accomplished through social activism. “The platforms of social media are built on weak ties” (Gladwell). The internet connects anyone with access from next door to the next country in a loose type of relationship. Common interests and values of individuals are readily available to all. People with similar interests connect to one another, but they rarely take the time to make an acquaintance. The internet connectivity has the ability to bring people together, but it does not have the ability to form strong ties when there is no face to face interactions. The internet diffuses information and collaboration among the masses in an impersonal type of environment (Gladwell).
The impersonal environment does not create many situations where violence and major sacrifice can develop.
The loose connection between acquainted individuals does not immediately create a sense of trust. Relaying the same message is essential when social activism begins, but trusting one another is essential to keep the movement running. Though weak ties created on the internet connect more people, it does not necessarily state that strong ties cannot develop.
The bazaar model creates a more functional forum between online community members. In Poe’s article, the bazaar model is considered to be an open forum where anyone can contribute their knowledge (Poe). Typed from an individual’s keyboard and then sent to the editorial stages, any article has the opportunity to be published if enough people agree that it is a credible source. Anyone familiar with Wikipedia should agree that a bazaar model creates a cooperative network of users who treat one another equally and value each other’s contributions. Evidence shows that there is no hierarchy of authority, however, the power resides in the responsibility of each individual. A system of checks and balances is spread more evenly among all members for their actions and words. If they abuse their position as a valued member of the community, then their privileges may be revoked and their reputations can become damaged. In Gladwell’s article, he showed that equality among the masses is crucial for a functional network. A network society requires equality and equal responsibility among all members.
Which Method is Preferred?
Depending on the types of people involved, a society can work best when all parties are valued for their contributions in a non-bias environment. Both Gladwell and Poe see that operations can function most efficiently in environments where responsibility and accountability are valued. Poe introduced the power that the masses have in order to control what is acceptable or not. One Wikipedian, supported by many others with similar viewpoints, wanted an elite-free open environment where power was in the people’s hands. Gladwell emphasized the influence social media has on internet relations. In high-risk situations, strong ties tend to connect specific people one by one together based on their values rather than their personal connection. In low-risk situations, weak ties tend to connect many people at once based on their common interests. Although all situations have unpredictable outcomes, the analysis of weak ties versus strong ties provides a calculated risk situation. Based on the level of common interests, people are connected to one another. What really matters is the basic human instinct to connect with others on common interests, beliefs, and values. Power, whether dispersed to one or all, efficiently defines the society through being the outlet where all members voices are valued.