Social Media Revolution

It’s all video today on the blog – here is another interesting one about how social media is changing our lives – as Adrian Warnock commented about it on his blog:

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Sometimes a video is worth a whole book.  This is one of those times.  I dare you to watch this video, and not conclude that social media really is a revolution.  As Christians we have to embrace this, aware of its dangers, but becoming experts at using these tools for the glory of God.

Well put.  This is so true!

Watch the video and see what you think.  Is it me, are are the statistics given frightening?

Any thoughts?

Emerging revolution – the church should watch and learn


Kester Brewin has posted an interesting article on his blog today about the part that social media is playing in contemporary revolution – both inside and outside the church:

….change occurs when normal people are given the opportunity to communicate with one another, unmediated by the powers that be. It is irrelevant whether that is Twitter or Facebook or otherwise. What is important is not information dissemination, but shared conversation. Not about ‘this is the news’ but ‘this is where we’re going to meet to make the news.’ Mubarak was toppled because people spoke to one another and decided together that enough was enough. If power-politics is about ‘Divide and Rule’ then social media is the antithesis of this. It is about ‘Unite and Change’ and though these networks themselves did not bring down the government, they facilitated the huge protests and encampments that did.

This, I believe, is how we can see a line joining the revolution in Egypt to the whole emerging church movement: things happen within seemingly dead and immobile institutions when people begin to talk to another and believe that a new way is possible. I don’t believe that it is coincidence that the rise of the internet was paralleled with the rise of the emerging church movement. It wasn’t that the internet made a new way possible, but it did give permission to new forms of connection and communication: people were able to disseminate ideas and discover that they were not the only ones feeling a particular way.

I think this has always been the case, and part of the core code of the gospel is this base-level communication. Jesus didn’t send out edicts or write proclamations. He simply walked around and spoke to people. The message of Pentecost is not about fire-power, but simply this: speak to one another in language you can understand.

I’m optimistic that social media – if it can escape the grip of promoted tweets and constant advertising (which I’m not sure it can) – will continue to be a powerful tool to make powerful structures more accountable. Not because information will be shared, but because people will simply be able to share how they are feeling, and work to act together.

I think he has something here. Revolution is by nature a bottom-up rather than a top-down phenomenom. Real change cannot be forced on someone, it has to come from within them.

In the 1962 film of The Birdman of Alcatraz, Burt Lancaster plays Robert Stroud, a convicted murderer who is in prison for life. The film to some degree focusses on the relationship between Stroud and Harvey Shoemaker, the Warden – played by Karl Malden. After 35 years in prison, Stroud has seen what justice and rehabilitation in the penal system is all about and he writes a book which Shoemaker finds in his cell.

They then have a conversation about what rehabilitation means and Stroud says this:

“I wonder if you even know what rehabilitation means.  The unabridged Webster’s International dictionary says that it comes from the Latin root word ‘habilis’, which means to invest again with dignity.  Do you consider that part of your job, Harvey, to give a man back the dignity that he once had?  Your only interest is in how he behaves.  You want your prisoners to dance out of the gates like puppets on a string with rubber stamp values impressed by you, with your sense of conformity, your sense of behaviour, even your sense of morality and that’s why you’re a failure, Harvey, because once they are on the outside they are lost souls, just going though the motion of living, but underneath there is a deep, deep hatred of what you have done to them.  So the first chance they get to attack society they do it and the result is that more than fifty percent come back to prison”.

Stroud recognised something significant.  Edicts from above can change and condition your behaviour, but they can’t change your heart – make you do, feel and believe what is right and just.

Only a change of heart will impact your worldview – and that has to come from within you.

This is just as true in a secular context as in a church context – and it is this change of heart, when it occurs in a ‘critical mass’ of people, that can start the chain reaction and leads to the ‘tipping point’ of revolution.

To quote Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does”

The problem is that so often revolution takes place as a result of anger, hate and the desire for revenge – and these are not good characteristics on which to found a vision for the future. For reformation to follow revolution then the anger needs to be replaced by a common sense of purpose and shared identity that is inclusive of all – a true sense of ‘communitas’ if you like, the compassion and intimacy that develops amongst people who share an experience of transition and vulnerability.

This is my prayer for Egypt, as well as my prayer for the church – hopefully with social media fuelling the spread of fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.

In the one case, my hope is that it will result in equality, equity and lasting peace for the Middle East, and in the other, lead to revival.

Read Kester Brewin’s full article here.

The ‘weak ties’ of social networking

Mark Sayers has posted an excellent (or molte bene to use his parlance) reflection on the Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article mentioned in my previous post:

“This molto bene article from Malcolm Gladwell … has solidified a lot themes that I have been talking about on this blog for ages. Gladwell speaks about the relative weakness of social networking as a tool of social change versus the tied and tested methods of believing in something passionately and being really organised. Despite reading Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody and getting slightly excited, I have had this funny feeling for a while that what we are seeing a lot of hype over ways of reaching people with a lot of breadth but not a whole lot of depth.

If you haven’t yet read Here Comes Everybody then I would still recommend that you do – but must admit, as Sayers does, that Gladwell’s observations definitely throws new fuel on to the discussion about the weakness of wide but shallow social networks over ‘face-to-face’ relationships.

As Sayers observes:

“What loose, organic networks provide is breadth, a scope for communicating information across a broad spectrum of people. But as we all know the more invites you get on facebook the more you ignore them, the larger and looser the network the less effective it becomes. Real social change as Gladwell remarks is borne out of a deep commitment to the cause, and thus a deep connected engagement, something facebook activism, and ‘come as you are’ networks don’t provide.”

The contrast in both articles, therefore, is between ‘strong tie’ and ‘weak tie’ relationships, and, as Gladwell so eloquently illustrates, high-risk activism that catalyses real change is a “strong tie phenomenon” that is unlikely to appear through social networking:

“The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties …. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.”

Gladwell also makes the observation that high-risk activists are often organised hierarchically, which is not what social media is about:

“Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose.”

This doesn’t mean that loose networks are bad, just that they won’t, in Gladwell’s opinion, produce the type of relationships that facilitate hard social change:

“There are many things … that networks don’t do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say? ….

The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change – if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash – or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy….”

As he concludes his article, Gladwell makes the observation that social networks are, ultimately:

“….a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.”

This makes sense, and must be taken into account, but is not necessarily all bad.  However, it does highlight the limits of social media in our contemporary culture.

Sayers takes this a step further and puts it into a discipleship context:

“What Gladwell is saying is that ultimately the methods of creating social change has not really changed that much. Commitment to a cause is infectious, but it is hard to catch across a computer screen or at a large event. It is caught in person. Therefore at the end of the day it is about discipling others …. Jesus was born into a culture where the apprenticing model of the Rabbis was normative …. Jesus’ statement that his followers must hate their families’ in order to be his disciples, so deeply shocking to our modern sensibilities, was actually not so shocking to Jesus hearers because it was a well know Rabbinical saying, underlying the importance of apprenticing yourself to a spiritual guide. Thus the challenge for us is to meld all of the tools which give us such breadth, with a challenge to go deeper. Screens – both on our laptops, iphones and stages can transfer important information. But the task of discipleship, of creating passionate followers prepared to die for a cause can only happen face to face.”

Ultimately, discipleship must be done face-to-face – and to be most effective, inevitably, on a one-to-one basis or in small groups of two or three – but the challenge is how to do this and still take advantage of the strengths of social media, primarily the easy transfer of information and ideas, and the fueling of innovation through collaboration with others outside of your normal circle of contacts.  Somewhere there must be a ‘sweet spot’ – to use Brafman and Beckstrom’s parlance – a place of best advantage between a centralised hierarchy and totally decentralised social network – where our discipleship focus is a hybrid of face-to-face apprenticing backed up and enhanced through networking with other disciples – both locally and across the global church.

The problem for me comes about when we put the responsibility for ‘discipleship’ exclusively in the hands of a local church hierarchy.  So often in such a situation ‘discipleship’ ends up becoming programme driven, legalistic and overly contrived rather than Jesus focussed, organic and natural.

Ultimately, the discipling of others must be driven from a grass roots change in the life of a church body – rather than a leadership directive – and that requires catalysts – people who have the passion and motivation to make change happen through influencing and encouraging others into action.

And as for me, my passion to disciple others, as a ‘catalyst’ in my home church, has been revived over the last eighteen months primarily as a result of my contact with key influencers, such as Mark Sayers, Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole – often through the use of social media.  The ties might be weak, but the influences, trust me, are strong!

Read Mark Sayers’ full article here.

The revolution will not be tweeted


There was an interesting article by Malcom Gladwell in the New Yorker recently questioning the claim that social media is a contemporary aid to social activism and revolution:

The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concerns.

But is this the case?  Not according to Gladwell – read his full article here.

HT:  Alan Hirsch