Small Change by Malcolm Gladwell

Traditional civil rights movements and modern advocacy are clearly distinguished by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell argues in his article Small Change: Why the Revolution Won’t Be Tweeted that conventional activism entails personal sacrifice, dedication, and an effective leadership hierarchy. He agrees that social media can boost creativity, bring people together, and help people in remote areas get knowledge. The poor have been given the ability to contribute to social change thanks to social media (Gladwell, paragraph 2). He uses the Moldova Twitter Revolution of 2009 as an example of how Twitter helped bring people together to fight Communism. However, as opposed to conventional approaches, Twitter plays a minor role. Social media fails to create strong bonds and join people to resist social vices where personal sacrifice is a prerequisite. It is just a mere tool to create networks and cannot be relied to challenge the status quo.

Civil right movement, unlike social media, was a high risk activism. Gladwell gives the example of the Mississippi Freedom Summer project of 1964 to support that social media is not capable of bringing change that requires sacrifice. The Sumer project admitted hundreds of volunteers to raise civil awareness in the South. Three of the volunteers (Michael Schewwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney), lost their live for the course. As the movement continued to faced increased resistance, 37 black churches were torched, participants were beaten, safe houses were bombed and those who escaped death were arrested. As a result, many of the activists dropped out. Gladwell insist that its only traditional activism can make people capable of high level commitment.

Participants in the traditional movements were highly disciplined. Gladwell notes that participants in the Mississippi Summer Freedom Project were true supporters of the goals of the program. All participants had to provide personal contact. The Greensboro lunch encounter involving four students was an event that successfully challenged discrimination against blacks. The four students had strong personal relationships with one another and common encounters of social injustices. The participants were fully committed and had personal connection to the movements.

Also unique to the traditional activism was the command hierarchy. For example, the N.A.A.C.P (National Association for Colored People) had formalized functions with an efficient center of command. Martin K Luther King was the center of command at the association’s southern Christina leadership conference. There was a well-defined division of labor characterized by highly disciplined groups. The various divisions in N.A.A.C.P were committed and performed functions via the established authority structures. Every participant had a role to play, and would be held accountable for their specific duties. There were key figures such as ministers to solve internal conflicts. Social media, on the contrary, has no defined system of leadership partly because participants are mostly strangers who have no personal connection with each other.

Gladwell’s claim that traditional activism was a high level activism, marked by discipline and with a properly defined structure of command, is constructed on the assumption that social media is made of weak tiers. Although people share information about their feelings and thoughts in a very efficient manner, participants have no personal attachment to each other. Campaigns on the internet present opportunities to interact with a huge and diverse audience. Given that participants are mostly strangers to each other, so many people can sign up for a reason they do not fully comprehend. Internet users can easily sign up for a civil movement since they do not have to give a lot of personal details. Activists can therefore get a lot of Twitter followers to sign up for event, but that does not guarantee commitment and sacrifice.

The author has efficiently used similes and anecdote to initiate emotional response from readers. The author mastery of similes is demonstrated when describes the spread of sit-ins, “It was like a fever. Everyone wanted to go.” In chapter one and six, Gladwell provides an anecdote of the 1960 Woolworth lunch event where four students stood against discrimination. He tells the story of four freshmen who sat at Woolworth in Greensboro and upon requesting for coffee, they were told ““We don’t serve Negroes here,” (Gladwell, Para. 2). The story helps readers understand the kind of discrimination at the time, where business people refused to serve customers on the basis of their skin color.

In the mid-20th century society, Christianity ideology was one of the most common ideology shared by Americans. The civil movements were largely based on Christina principles. In the Christianity context, the word evangelism means spreading the love of God to all people. It would therefore be persuasive that Gladwell uses phrases such as digital evangelism, the evangelism of social media and the bible of the social media movement to match the efforts of an activist l. The efficiency of social media in spreading information meant to bring good social change can be compared to an evangelical Christian’s effort of preaching Gods love.

Work Cited

Gladwell, Malcolm. “Small change.” The New Yorker 4.2010 (2010): 42-49. Available at

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