Change: making social change more effective

Purpose: To understand how to make social movements fueled by social media more effective.

Description: Zeynep Tufekci explores how social media both empowers and weakens social movements and how the weakening can be overcome.

She uses a number of modern cases to demonstrate the strengths of social movements, especially:

  • raising awareness which is essential to changing minds, which in turn is the bedrock of changing politics
  • rapidly mobilising large numbers of people.

She also explores why the outcomes of mass mobilisation are not proportional to the energy, bravery, sacrifices, camaraderie or mutual aid unleashed by social media.

She argues that social media does not provide the capacity building that was achieved by slow and sustained movements, such as the US civil rights movement. Whereas protests generated by social media show policy makers that there are high levels of discontent, they no longer signal a depth of capacity behind the protests that has been achieved through hard work over a long time and that it is risky to ignore, or as Tufekci put it that the protesters have “teeth that bite.”

Critical to making social movements fueled by social media more effective are to also develop the ability to:

  • think together
  • make hard decisions together
  • create consensus
  • innovate tactically as circumstances change
  • keep going together through differences
  • develop strong policy proposals
  • figure out political steps
  • use leverage for political gain.

Reference: “Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win” presented by Zeynep Tufekci was a talk at TEDGlobal, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2014. Video (16 minutes) online at either:

  1., or
  2. YouTube:

Posted: March 2015
Last updated: May 2020