Social nets are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change—if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash—or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy.
This is the second crucial distinction between traditional activism and its online variant: social media are not about this kind of hierarchical organization. Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose.
There are many things, though, that networks don’t do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?
If Martin Luther King, Jr., had tried to do a wiki-boycott in Montgomery, he would have been steamrollered by the white power structure. And of what use would a digital communication tool be in a town where ninety-eight per cent of the black community could be reached every Sunday morning at church? The things that King needed in Birmingham—discipline and strategy—were things that online social media cannot provide.
Traslademos todo esto al mundo de la información: el periodismo requiere organización y, sobre todo, editores, en el sentido estricto de esta palabra –profesionales que seleccionan, valoran y presentan la información. Los martinlutherkings del periodismo.
¿Deben hoy esos editores tener en cuenta el flujo social? Claro y no sólo como fuente. Otra cosa es y sería suicida. Pero nunca deben ser sustituidos por ese flujo ni por el crowdsourcing ni por los periodistas ciudadanos ni por el mejor algoritmo ni por la conversación. Ni deben ni pueden: los medios se convertirían en un fluido inerte y estéril. Perderíamos todos.