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  • W. Dean Reply

    Shirky’s talk is worth listening to. But I think it’s more interesting as a specific kind of error that contemporary social scientists are prone, because they’re bedazzled by the things social media makes possible (like chat rooms and on-line clubs, etc.). Their mistake is to attribute a causal role in social developments to a new technology in virtue of the fact that it’s used by those participating in these developments.

    Shirky thinks social media (e.g., Twitter), for example, allowed for the sort of uprising we saw in Egypt. It’s more plausible that it was the medium of choice for the organizers and that it would have happened anyway. Just look at history. Tiananmen Square happened before social media, so did the protest movements of the sixties, the civil rights movement and the French Revolution(s). In each case, large groups of people organized themselves, often without even having telephones. It stands to reason, then, that the mere use of social media is not sufficient grounds for attributing a causal role to it.

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