Weak ties

The Bermuda Sun profiled the online personas of many of our local politicians recently, while Malcolm Gladwell wrote a hotly debated article entitled "Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted".

I've been online in one form or another in a political context since 2003 with this blog, Twitter and Facebook, although I don't really use the latter two for much political discussion. But I'm with Gladwell.

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, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. 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 marvellous 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.

I'm not convinced that social networking is particularly effective as a tool of social activism. I think it's a largely passive activity, which is complimentary to social/political movements but by no means critical.

In the Bermuda context I think this is absolutely the case. This is a small retail politics environment, and social media is largely about fostering weak ties.

That's not to say there is no value, but I'm more and more convinced that politically astute Bermudians need to come out from behind their keyboards and start fostering stronger ties and more direct relationships than online social media.

I include myself in that.

Bermuda has a desperate need for more direct, active participation than Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums (which are different than blogs) and radio talk shows.

Bermuda suffers from too much talk, not enough action.

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