Making changes through social media

The article below was originally posted on October 4, 2010 in The New Yorker. It was written by Malcolm Gladwell.


At four-thirty in the afternoon on Monday, February 1, 1960, four college students sat down at the lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. They were freshmen at North Carolina A. & T., a black college a mile or so away.
“I’d like a cup of coffee, please,” one of the four, Ezell Blair, said to the waitress.
“We don’t serve Negroes here,” she replied.

The Woolworth’s lunch counter was a long L-shaped bar that could seat sixty-six people, with a standup snack bar at one end. The seats were for whites. The snack bar was for blacks. Another employee, a black woman who worked at the steam table, approached the students and tried to warn them away. “You’re acting stupid, ignorant!” she said. They didn’t move. Around five-thirty, the front doors to the store were locked. The four still didn’t move. Finally, they left by a side door. Outside, a small crowd had gathered, including a photographer from the Greensboro Record. “I’ll be back tomorrow with A. & T. College,” one of the students said.
By next morning, the protest had grown to twenty-seven men and four women, most from the same dormitory as the original four. The men were dressed in suits and ties. The students had brought their schoolwork, and studied as they sat at the counter. On Wednesday, students from Greensboro’s “Negro” secondary school, Dudley High, joined in, and the number of protesters swelled to eighty. By Thursday, the protesters numbered three hundred, including three white women, from the Greensboro campus of the University of North Carolina.

By Saturday, the sit-in had reached six hundred. People spilled out onto the street. White teen-agers waved Confederate flags. Someone threw a firecracker. At noon, the A. & T. football team arrived. “Here comes the wrecking crew,” one of the white students shouted.

By the following Monday, sit-ins had spread to Winston-Salem, twenty-five miles away, and Durham, fifty miles away. The day after that, students at Fayetteville State Teachers College and at Johnson C. Smith College, in Charlotte, joined in, followed on Wednesday by students at St. Augustine’s College and Shaw University, in Raleigh. On Thursday and Friday, the protest crossed state lines, surfacing in Hampton and Portsmouth, Virginia, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee. By the end of the month, there were sit-ins throughout the South, as far west as Texas. “I asked every student I met what the first day of the sitdowns had been like on his campus,” the political theorist Michael Walzer wrote in Dissent. “The answer was always the same: ‘It was like a fever. Everyone wanted to go.’ ” Some seventy thousand students eventually took part. Thousands were arrested and untold thousands more radicalized. 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.

To read the rest of the article follow this link….


About andrewodom

Social Media Manager at Delta Career Education Corp.
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7 Responses to Making changes through social media

  1. Jennie says:

    I’m not sure why the author of this article is trying to make a distinction like this. Social media has strengths and weaknesses just like everything else. I don’t think most people would say it is the best tool to use for EVERYTHING. But I also think it can be used to help promote real and meaningful change, maybe …not on its own but it can. It’s a tool, use it where you can effectively and then move on.

    • Jo Ann says:

      The author is acting as if social media is the only method people will ever use to communicate again. It is simply a means to an end…a quick way to get a message out to a large number of people. A benefit of social media is that you can reach people anywhere, anytime.

      I don’t see this as being any different than CNN, FOX, or any other major news station. A few years ago when they all decided to offer 24/7 news, their major goal was to be able to get information to a large number of people anytime, anywhere.

      The biggest issues I see people like this author having is that no one can control the communication that is taking place over social media networks…the 1st amendment reigns supreme!!!!

  2. andrewodom says:

    So I was asked when I posted this on Facebook what I actually thought about the article. I responded with:

    The first quote I take offense to is: “making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concerns…”.

    I’m sorry but since when did ANY concern not deserve a platform, be the concerned a weak person or not?

    Second quote, “Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools…”

    Although Jesus had the most righteous of all causes did he not employ tools (parables, disciples, visual illustrations, etc) to get his message across on a larger scale?

    Third quote that interests me is, “Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.”

    So from this I should assume that there is no more room for social upheaval unless I am willing to sit-in, go to jail, be burned at the stake, etc, to prove my sincerity.

    ….and the list goes on. Quite frankly, I think the article is well-written, well-researched, and hugely misinformed. With each generation we are tasked with what to believe, why to believe it, and how to spread the messages that resonate with us. Malcom X told us that he would rebuke the enemy “by any means necessary.” My means today will be digital rather than laden with violence.

  3. Mechele says:

    I found the article interesting. I do not believe that social media is bad at all. After traveling around the world for over 11 Years in the military, social media is how I keep up with family and friends, keep abreast on what’s happening in the world, and yes… even voice my concerns. On the other hand, I can see how some would say that people hide behind social media… Some even believe that Facebook, Twitter, etc enables people to put on faces that they’re not bold enough to share in person.

    • jenniemeyer says:

      Is that bad?? If anominity can give a person courage to begin a social change shouldn’t that be applauded? Perhaps if the social activism is really up against a strong current paradigm an annonomous idea can start something larger. All ideas grow from a very small seed.

      I think social media can be used to; 1. begin a social change, and 2. cordinate an effort already begun. I don’t disagree with what the author had to say about needing strong ties to remain committed to a cause, just his opinion that social media can’t help in maintaining or creating those ties.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I don’t know if you read through some of Q&A session, but he’s arguing that social media wouldn’t have helped with the Civil Rights movement because “The issue isn’t informing people. It’s organizing people.” Sorry, but that’s a lot of what social media does. You can organize all kinds of events through all kinds of platforms on facebook, and you never have to leave your house to do it. You can send out an invitation to a party to all of your friends all at once, and they can read it on their cell phones wherever they are. I have a big problem with not seeing the organizational power of facebook and how it can be used to promote social activism.

    He also talks about Obama and how the campaign used a combination of social media and grass-roots; well, yeah, he was running for President, nobody wants a dude who plays on facebook all day running the country.

    But then I think about the shooting at VT. If someone had been able to send out a facebook message to all of their friends before things got crazy, you can’t argue that organization wouldn’t have taken place, you can’t argue that they would have needed some face-to-face interaction before responding. It’s the same idea behind having Amber or Silver Alerts sent to your cell phone; if you believe in something, you can be organized through social media.

    • andrewodom says:

      I did read through some of the Q&A. Interesting, indeed. What you are pointing out is where I really disagreed most with Gladwell. I tend to think the strong suit of social media is its ability to organize people; across global divides even. I am so with you on this.

      See, in my opinion Obama capitalized on social media but only by proxy. In January 2007 Obama hired then 25-year-old Joe Rospars to head up the New Media team and work on the tools that would facilitate fundraising, said grassroots campaigning, and develop a community. Then Chris Hughes was hired. Hughes was a co-founder of Facebook. I mean, Obama was not on his blackberry Tweeting for himself. Everything was calculated in order to inform, empower, and facilitate.

      There are dozens of movements now that have proven to us that social media enables us to organize our efforts and put some pedal to the metal.

      Thank you for being part of the conversation Elizabeth!

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