Image by Brooklyn Museum via FlickrOnce again, the power of social media and networks has toppled a government. There is nothing superficial about tweeting 140 characters. There is nothing "weak" about the weak ties and connections in Facebook or other social networks. Events in Egypt, Iran and elsewhere have shown that these networks are worth learning and knowing about. It is interesting that in America the questions about social networks have to do with the so-called superficial nature of the connections (I am thinking here of Sherry Turkle) and in the rest of the world Twitter is the vehicle of change - the electronic samizdat.
Technology as an agent of revolutionary change is nothing new - letters and newspapers linked networks of revolutionaries in Europe and America. Velvet revolutionaries in the late 80s were smuggling 2400 baud modems into Eastern Europe. The networks were used to send meeting information, demonstration notices, and information to illegal computer bulletin boards:
"Back in '89, Czech students were trying to coordinate the uprising across the nation, and the technical students...were running the telecom angle. They used a 300-baud device with the size, shape, and heat of a kitchen toaster. The Czech secret police were far too stupid and primitive to keep up with digital telecommunications, so the student-radical modem network was relatively secure from bugging and taps. Fidonet BBSes were springing up surreptitiously on campuses whenever an activist could sneak a modem past the border guards. Modems were, of course, illegal. Most of the Czech cops, however, had no idea what modems were." - Bruce Sterling, "Triumph of the Plastic People," Wired 3.01. Jan. 1995.
Computer networks are the new coffee house (the traditional hot bed of revolution in the 18th century). Twitter and cell phone texting has changed Iran (shaken, not toppled). The government of Myanmar knows all about the "dangers" of technology too which is why it is against the law there to own an unregistered modem.
Just as we would teach traditional journalism in schools with newspapers (I mean literal paper), we owe it to the students to utilize social networks and media in the curriculum. Social media literacy is not just for ordering pizza! The media is a superficial or as powerful as we make it.