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Gladwell’s Criticism of Social Networking Services

Posted October. 11, 2010 11:04,   


Twitter’s fame shot up in June last year after a female college student in Iran was shot to death in an anti-government demonstration. At the time, Tehran controlled all Iranian media including newspapers and broadcasters. Despite this, news of the killing spread like wildfire via the social networking service.

When Twitter’s role caught on, Mark Pfeifle, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, said that without Twitter, the Iranian people would not have been able to join hands to fight for freedom and democracy. He added that Tweeter should receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Can social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook genuinely spearhead social revolution? Amid the widespread introduction of smartphones, the number of users on social networking services has surged, with that of Twitter topping 150 million and that of Facebook exceeding 500 million. Considering the sheer number of subscribers, such services could change the world. There are skeptics, however. Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian-born journalist and bestselling author, has provoked debate by saying social media is merely "a disorderly crowd lacking both central authority, leaders and a sense of consolidation" in the latest issue of the magazine The New Yorker.

Twitter allows contact among people who have little chance to meet each other in the real world and to exchange thoughts and feelings real time. Via Facebook, a member can have hundreds of “friends” with whom he or she has never met. Gladwell, however, says it is very difficult for people to share critical minds over pending issues that hold weight and values big enough to prompt them to bet their money, time, career and life and show a sense of consolidation to tackle them given weak relations in cyberspace.

Korea’s situation seems to be different, however. Yonsei University journalism and mass communication professor Yoon Young-chul said, “Koreans who have a similar propensity tend to gather together.” Unlike people in other countries, likeminded Koreans form communities from the very beginning and share information, he said. When sensitive issues such as a dispute over a person’s educational background flares up, Koreans tend to band together and consolidate through social networking services. A case in point is the netizens’ group “Tablo, We Demand the Truth,” which questioned whether the singer Tablo studied at Stanford University in the U.S. as he claimed. Gladwell might have overlooked Koreans when making his criticism of social media.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)