Is social media better at breaking than making?

I was led to an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times by Thomas Friedman after following a tweet from Norman Spector:

Much of the article consists of an interview with Wael Ghonim, the Google employee in Egypt whose Facebook page was credited with helping to launch the Tahrir Square demonstration leading to the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s government.

In December, Ghonim, who has since moved to Silicon Valley, posted a TED talk about what went wrong. It is worth watching and begins like this: “I once said, ‘If you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.’ I was wrong.

I thought it would be important to capture Friedman’s highlight of Ghonim’s views on social media:

  • “First, we don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.”
  • Second, “We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else.”
  • “Third, online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. … It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.”
  • “And fourth, it became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet.”
  • Fifth, and most crucial, he said, “today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. … It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.”

The article is worth a full read and be sure to watch the TED talk. Do you agree with Ghonim’s conclusion?

Five years ago, I said, ‘If you want to liberate society, all you need is the Internet.’ Today I believe if we want to liberate society, we first need to liberate the Internet.

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