Strong and Weak Ties in the International Context

In Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted, Gladwell discusses the importance of strong ties in making radical changes and the ultimate shortcomings of weak ties. This is an interesting view as Granovetter’s original study on strong and weak ties found that many weak ties, or casual acquaintances, prove much more critical in gaining information or pursuing opportunities, most famously in job hunting (as discussed on p.49 of Watts’s book). However, Gladwell points to the student protesters and shows that without their strong connection and ability to talk “in a way that works only with people who talk late into the night with one another” they never would have had the courage to begin the protest at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro. Of course other people with less strong connections did join the protest, they needed that initial commitment to seed their beginnings, similarly to how Ivanna relied on her friend Evan to begin her search for her Sidekick and only after initial friends helped did others join in with email support.

This seems like a very conclusive argument that only strong ties can be trusted to start important movements. However, in an international context having these very strong ties is definitely not always possible if attempting to verify an opposing state. Here, it seems as if there is often reliance on the information provided by weak ties through social media and the trust of that information, as it is easier to discover. Yet, this information can often be flawed, as Gladwell points out with Twitter’s reaction to the protests in Moldova and Tehran. These reactions may have largely overplayed the people’s involvement. This is not surprising since if only a few people post on subject, it can lead to a quick cascade where thousands not the event praise their support regardless of actual present numbers.

As both strong and weak ties have their pros and cons in international scenarios which do you think is best for governments to pursue? In this context, strong ties would likely be the classic view of intelligence agencies, which have a high entrance barrier but also high trust, and weak ties are posts on social media which provide an extremely low entrance barrier and almost no trust at all. Of course this can also extend to beginning or monitoring new social revolutions, in addition to verification of weapon systems or other governmental actions. In any of these scenarios, is it best to trust weak ties or try to implant strong ties? Would there be any practical way to combine the two for a maximum advantage? Has either become entirely worthless in the modern world? — Ben

23 thoughts on “Strong and Weak Ties in the International Context

  1. Although Gladwell recognizes the potential for small ties to provide quicker, more abundant information, I believe it would be more beneficial for governments to pursue strong ties. As Ben states, both strong and weak ties have their pros and cons. Strong ties have a high entrance barrier, they take more time to develop, and they are less abundant, meaning government bodies generally have less strong ties in comparison to weak ties. On the other hand, small ties are often flawed and cannot be trusted.
    Thus, in terms of consistency, strong ties would be more beneficial for governments to implement strong ties over weak ties. While strong ties take longer to develop, their benefits are worth pursuing. As the social media revolution continues to develop, there will be an exponential increase in social media users, which will inevitably decrease the reliability of weak ties. Therefore, more emphasis and worth will be placed on validity of information sources, and since strong ties are more reliable than weak ones, their stock will certainly rise.

  2. Verification can and should be crowd-sourced, but not if the price is privacy or reliability of information. I think the idea you propose of a path in between strong and weak ties, a medium tie if you will, is very interesting and could provide something of real substance. These medium ties would come in the form of individuals approved by security agencies who could provide live information while not being fully vetted operatives. With such a group there would be a light vetting process to serve as an entrance barrier and provide a reason to assume a decent amount of trust. That being said, the value of such an opt-in watchdog type program would only surpass those of strong ties and weak ties if there were high numbers of people willing to participate and an ideal vetting process could be settled on. In regards to practicality, I think such a system could be established but it would require a period of trial and error until the ideal threshold for vetting was determined.

    I also agree with Michael that as the social media revolution continues, the value of different types of ties will change. However, I believe that medium ties are the answer to the problem. If you put a set of semi-trustworthy eyes and ears in most communities and groups, those individuals can provide an initial report. Initial reports could act as an indicator that resources should be expended to develop stronger ties there. As more people join the world of social media, they need to be recruited to roles as medium ties. If they could figure out an effective system of recruitment, reporting, and verification, I believe the security and verification community can actually capitalize on the social media revolution.

  3. With respect to intelligence gathering, “weak ties” are extremely important. For instance, “Weak ties” through social media and other online sources, according to CBS News, help the U.S. combat ISIS: “ISIS postings also help track these militants and teach us about their activities when intelligence on the ground is limited.” (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-uses-social-media-to-recruit-western-allies/) Additionally, these broad “networks” give the U.S. a tremendous opportunity to improve their cyber-warfare capabilities. In short, “weak ties” can help destroy a revolution, even revolutions or movements built on “strong-tie connections.”

    Simultaneously, however, according to an article written by CNN’s Ray Sanchez, social media and other online sources are gradually being used more effectively by ISIS to foster “strong-tie connections”: “ISIS has the most sophisticated propaganda machine of any terrorist organization, a global communications strategy that has stumped counterterrorism officials while making significant inroads among U.S. sympathizers…ISIS uses its social media prowess to lure more and more Americans, who are often young, sometimes disillusioned” (http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/04/us/isis-social-media-recruits/). Clearly, through the targeted use of social media, “weak ties” can be made stronger and can be transformed into “high-risk activism.”

    Nevertheless, when it comes to acquiring intelligence, I still think that it is imperative to develop “strong-tie connections” because there are some things that social media and other non-traditional intelligence sources can’t do and will never be able to do. For example, vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear capabilities, it was only through on-site intelligence that the U.S. was able to determine what Iran was doing. In other words, no matter how effectively social media can be used, it has no effect in the military sites of the Iranian military.

  4. While easier said than done, the key to international scenarios is finding an effective means of transitioning weak ties to strong ties by generating enough initial interest on social media. This includes many of the same obstacles as commercial companies face in marketing their products. Potential supporters may see relevant campaign slogans or hashtags, but they can easily be lost in the abundance of available information. One means of making the transition is by generating a high enough quantity of shares, likes, and posts such that the news is unavoidable. Curious users would have to begin search the information; however, this does not often translate into actual change as highlighted by Gladwell. A more effective method has become to upload video footage that emotionally implicates viewers to take action. This helps the audience to situate themselves as witnesses to problem and therefore begin a “revolution.” Still a tough way of transitioning into strong ties, it has been done before with campaigns like Kony 2012.
    In general, I would argue that weak and strong ties are more connected than ever. The ability to largely disseminate information has created a link that shrinks the necessary degrees of separation to generate interest and inspire action. However, government causes may be drowned out in white noise. While I agree with Gladwell that the revolution cannot only be tweeted, I would not dismiss the use of weak ties in popularizing movements and ultimately creating strong ties.

  5. Ideally it would be best to combine the two together. As it was said, strong ties take longer time and patience to develop. Perhaps it may be best that the strong ties should begin to be made, and while doing so, gather as many weak ties as possible. In the end you could gather the combined informations for an ultimate big picture, thus giving a variety of views or intelligence coming from different sources. There could be a chance for the weak ties and strong ties directly line up such that they produce the same intel, and in the case they they produce different intel then it should be an area of interest to discover why they do not align. So, I believe that governments should pursue strong ties first, and as a back-up/secondary use the weak ties when necessary. Like what Michael said, social media is becoming far too mainstream and widely used for weak ties to be the only source sought after. While the weak ties will still hold their value, it will become much more difficult for the correct information to be gathered because that information must now be found by sifting through the multitude of social media users. Overall, I believe that the future brings a change and alteration in all types of ties, whether it means gathering the information will be more difficult or even not as clear. As a result of these many ongoing changes and revolutions, and even changes/revolutions that we have yet to encounter, it would be best for a government to still gather as many ties as possible from all types (weak, medium, strong). True sight on intel or any other type of information will only be possible by observing many types of ties from the different levels we shall group them.

  6. I found Gladwell’s differentiation between strong ties and weak ties extremely valuable to an exploration of the effects of the rise of social media on the success or failures of revolution. As reflected in the readings, there is a growing fascination with the idea of “social media revolutions.” In particular, much of the literature around the Arab Spring seems to point to the integral component of social media in driving or fostering these revolutions. I truly appreciate how Gladwell has pointed out exactly how ridiculous this overemphasis of the role of social media is. This overemphasis is embodied by Gladwell’s description of the national security adviser Mark Pfeifle, who argued that “Without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy,” and wanted to award Twitter a Nobel Peace prize. While the utility of social media is clear in its ability to not only spread information, but also grow the pool of information contributers, as corroborated by Bryan Lee in “Assessing the potential of societal verification by means of new media,” to attribute these revolutions entirely to social media is to rob the individuals driving the revolution and risking their lives to do so of their autonomy. Social media is a tool for breaking down barriers of communication, weak ties. It does not push people to risk their lives and prioritize freedom over security, strong ties.

  7. This week’s reading by Gladwell was particularly interesting and poignant given the recent protests on campus and the tragedies that have taken place around the world. As Kennedy pointed out, I don’t think the US should/ought to prioritize one over another as both are crucial to understanding adversaries and finding common cause. However, what we need is a comprehensive approach (akin to what we do today) whereby we pursue strong ties within our intelligence communities who do undercover work or share and collaborate on intelligence with others (Mi6, Mossad etc.) while monitoring and encouraging weak ties among peoples to track, monitor and crowd-source verification.

    Weak ties are far quicker at spreading information or understanding information (networks) than stronger ties and are useful in building a base, since it is naive to assume that we can build strong ties with everyone. Strong ties are most useful in actually getting things done and work best within our internal systems and frameworks to accomplish objectives and goals. Thus, to answer Ben’s questions – both can and must be used together to achieve maximal effect.

  8. I think Gladwell differentiation between weak ties and strong ties is worth a deeper look into the concept of what he calls “revolution”. In this respect, a true revolution is a consequence of strong ties, while in this era, civil rights, political and social struggles are fought (in a very superficial way) through social media tools, through like or sharing a post on Facebook or Twitter.

    While we have seen how strong ties during current political activism in US colleges right now (the resignation of University of Mizzouri’s president) have proven to be effective tools to achieve political and social goals, we also witnessed the power that weak ties had, through social media, to involve many students and colleges in the country. Is this necessarily bad? I don’t think so. Will this lead to a revolution? Probably not. I do believe that a combination of both, though, is necessary in modern times.

    I also think that one point must be clarified for my assumption. As I said, I do think that a combination of both strong and weak ties is the best way to achieve social and political goals. Also, I agree with Gladwell that strong ties can win a battle but weak ties can’t lead to a revolution. Commitment is the basis for a revolution and without it we will have a lot of informed people, but very few soldiers.

  9. So far this discussion has mostly focused on government intelligence, and I think we are forgetting about “the fourth branch,” the international media. In terms of verification, international media outlets already have “medium ties” (h/t Kennedy) on the ground in the form of journalists. Though not expert-level intelligence operatives, they have been trained and vetted, and are held to a moderately high standard of accuracy and ethicality. They cannot be as reliable as CIA intelligence with regard to verification, but are reliable enough for contributing to public and governmental knowledge.

    I agree with Kennedy and Michael that strong ties are irreplaceable and fundamental to U.S. intelligence-gathering operations, particularly in military and remote settings. But, in the case of the media, “weak ties” are a great avenue for tips and leads. Social media weak ties were not necessarily helpful for government verification and information gathering in Moldova and Tehran (or, more recently, Cairo and the West Bank), but they would tip off journalists, whose investigations can lead to crucial information for the government and public. It was social media postings that tipped the media off about Russian forces invading Crimea (http://www.dailydot.com/news/russia-crimea-social-network/); although the government already knew about the ground movement, journalists could rally international attention to the issue and give the government more public leverage. And, because journalists can sometimes go into areas that government officials cannot, they are certainly an additionally helpful avenue for verification.

  10. Molly, I am glad you expanded upon Kennedy’s point about “medium ties” in the form of journalists. Journalists are a huge driving force for many of the weak ties that occur on social media. For example, on social websites such as Facebook or Twitter, most of us can agree that we are informed about a large percentage of the social happenings in our country and around the world because many of our acquaintances (the focus here is not on close friends) tend to share articles from several news outlets that inform us and then motivate us to act in some way, shape, or form in response to the information we have read. I personally have noticed that fewer and fewer people share their own observations on social media without attaching some complementary source to their post. I have also realized that most recent social movements have expanded because of the efforts of journalists. Here, we see a combination of weak and medium ties which seem to be in an endless cycle of discovering information, sharing the information, and then expanding upon the information. I would even argue that because our weak ties tend to be sharing less of their own information and more information taken from more reliable sources, then as a consequence the weak ties become more reliable.

    Now, there is a limitation to the network created by the collaboration between weak and medium ties, which, as Gladwell addresses in his article, is that, “they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals,” (12). This is a result of the ideally unbiased nature of journalism. While many news outlets arguably have agendas when they report on certain stories, they are still not explicitly saying one should fight for this or not support that. Their reports allow for discourse, so it is then the weak ties’ responsibility to motivate readers towards supporting one side or another, which is what often happens when our acquaintances on Twitter and Facebook provide commentary when sharing the articles.

  11. I think Gladwell’s article on weak vs strong ties in driving change is important in today’s international setting. It is true that having strong ties, hierarchical structure, discipline, and strategy are necessary for fully implementing change, but I think he underplays the role that social media can have on informing the world of current situations. Information and international awareness is the first step to bringing forth solid verification, and I believe that social media is an effective tool for this. These ‘weak ties’, however, must be supplemented with a strong system, such as our discussion on intelligence agencies. If knowledge is thrown out to the world, then more people will be able to get involved in certain issues. It’s true that the complete ‘revolution’ will not come from these people, but it still can effectively legitimize and broaden change. The complete ‘revolution’ thus requires a combination of both types of ties. With public backing- which will come from the spreading of knowledge and involvement through social media- strong systems will be able to work with more legitimacy to push the change all the way through. I think Molly’s point about tips and leads is a perfect example of this. The international awareness gained from these outlets seem to only help ‘strong-tied’ systems by providing them with direction.
    Although Gladwell points out the strengths found in these strong tie systems, I think he underplays the role of weak ties in furthering the process. In the modern world, we should not solely focus on these weak tie revolutions, but implement them in a way where they are beneficial in moving along our more centralized structures. Effective change will come not from one or the other, but a combination of both.

  12. I agree with Michael R. that weak ties have the potential to, and often do, enhance our verification and intelligence gathering capabilities. Micro-level intelligence gathering can be applied to anyone who leaves a digital footprint, as theoretically everyone with some level of online presence does. For our “enemies”, this is undeniably helpful. But internal surveillance dashes any hope of privacy, and any use of its scarily precise knowledge should be publicly announced and carefully considered. Some of the above commentors propose systems to “vet” information from weak relationships, but any such system relies on relies on arbitrary, changing factors that have little overall value in funneling the massive quantity of information uploaded to the internet everyday. Nothing retains the internet’s attention for long; changing perspectives, different information, and new topics creep on whether we want them to or not, and for that reason, as long as week information is available, we should be keeping intimately apprized of its trends. Although I also believe in the strong-tie potential between world leaders and among intelligence communities that rely on human instincts, rather than machine algorithms, the potential for weak-tie surveillance and verification must be considered by any security official.

    However, the same reasons that make weak-tie interaction strong for security make it weak for activism, and I agree with almost all of Gladwell’s reasoning thereon. The sheer quantity of information on the internet makes no issue truly salient, and protest banners coexist with fundraisers for a friend’s coveted concert ticket on the same Facebook wall. At their best, movements rely on the strong-tie nature of their charisma, their salience, and their engaged approach, but at their worst, movements and figures may be tracked down and stopped by even the weakest of their ties.

  13. One thing that I wonder about in this context is how you would classify the information that you gather through surveillance, whether it is the case that this information can be seen as a strong or a weak link or tie. For example, is all the information considered a weak tie, due to the fact that it does not come directly from a trusted source? Or is it the case that you can confidently assess this info with the same level of seriousness as you would a “strong tie” due to the fact that the accumulation of information is great enough to be fairly certain.

    The final thing that I am interested in is the role of counter information in the verification conversation. If it happens to be the case that your weak ties are piling up to say one thing, and your strong ties say something completely different, which will end up dominating. Basically, Gladwell shows that weak ties are underrated, but how important to the really big questions like what weapons a dangerous state has?

  14. Thanks everyone for a fascinating discussion! I agree with much that has been said above about the potential for a synthesis of weak, strong, and ‘medium’ ties for intelligence-gathering purposes. However, I think that to some extent the distinction between these categories is becoming a bit moot in an age of increasing globalization and especially Big Data. Specifically, I’m thinking about the the accumulation of lots of ‘little ties’ that occurs as a result of modern surveillance–either by government projects (e.g. PRISM) or even the increasing sophistication of other internet trackers (cookies and such.) Indeed, one of the things that has emerged out of this conversation seems to be just how specific and well-informed mass data collection can get. This raises a question: are strong ties a difference in type or of degree from weak ties: that is, can “strong ties” be conceived as simply the aggregation of many weak ties?

    I think insofar as surveillance is concerned, the answer may be yes: even if each individual data point or weak tie is not particularly informative, the synthesis of many weak ties creates a network of ties whose sum is larger than the whole. However, for purposes of activism I’m more unsure: my initial feeling is that Gladwell has a strong argument for the importance of strong ties in effecting social change. But I’m not entirely convinced: the emergence of decentralized but surprising effective groups like Anonymous–a movement impossible before the Internet age–seems to demonstrate that vast networks of weak ties can spawn effective advocacy and action not decomposable into its constituent parts: a classic example of emergent behavior.

  15. Jonathan brings up and important and interesting point about mass media and the linking of many weak ties into a larger network. While strong ties take a lot of time to form (those “late night conversations” mentioned by Gladwell), it is quite easy to amass a large number of small ties. In fact in many cases of social media, they can appear almost without effort, as similarly minded people tend to coalesce around each other. The advantage to such a large network is that while there’s no real scale for how reliable an individual source posting on the internet may be, the way that the internet tends to foster large overlapping networks of people tends to encourage a sort of watchdog effect of itself. Something also particularly unique about today’s ‘weak ties’ that emerges in Gladwell’s reading is that in cases where you see large groups of people coalescing around the same issue, there tended to be an initial strong tie connection that seeded it. The visibility and mass effect of today’s weak ties seems like it could be a way to not only verify and pass information, but to observe the way a society is thinking about an issue and the way they are forming around it, which particularly in fighting threats like terrorism that emerge from radical ideological ties between people, can be especially important. Even in a case like the Iran deal, what tone are people taking on twitter? Even if they’re using false information to back up claims, what does that say about the political climate in Iran, and what kinds of pressures are Iranian lawmakers facing as a result?

  16. I really enjoyed the Gladwell piece because it not only reminds us of the importance of strong ties in our world, but also opens our mind to the prospect that weak ties can, in fact, be useful contributing factors in important movements. Historically, in matters such as foreign affairs, word of mouth was not quite easily spread. As a result, strong ties to informants in an opposing state was crucial to have true knowledge and appreciation of events that were transpiring behind closed doors. However, today in an age of social media- among other tools- the emergence of weak ties as a legitimate way of obtaining knowledge and starting movements appears to be, perhaps, a legitimate possibility.

    This being said, I still believe it is in our government’s best interest to pursue, first and foremost, strong, reliable ties. This is not to say that it cannot use weak ties to its advantage with regards to receiving informal tips that may materialize into concrete information, however, I believe we would be running to high of a risk of trusting a lot of information that is untruthful. While I recognize the high entrance barrier it takes to get into situations of strong foreign ties, I believe this is a small price to pay when we consider the validity of the information we are receiving on important worldly matters. I believe the best way to combine the notions of strong and weak ties is to only fully trust the strong ones, but strategically and educationally pursue intriguing weak ties, which could have the possibility of materializing into strong ties in the long rub. Through this measure, I believe the United States will be able to even more skillfully monitor movements such as weapon verification, nuclear inspection, etc. However, this being said, despite all the intrigue behind weak ties, I still believe strong ties are our best bet due to their uncontested legitimacy, and in this light I believe they are still very pertinent and useful in our world today.

  17. Given the ubiquity of social media and the sheer volume of content being gererated online every day on social networks, it seems clear that intelligence agencies should shift their focus away from information gathering on the Internet and utilize more focused and trustworthy sources. Many security experts often attribute intelligence failures to an overabundance of information about imminent threats, which all too often is just noise. Worse, it allows the real threat to slip through the cracks. Perhaps most infamously, the Bush administration received a memo a month before September 11, detailing a plot by al-Qaeda to use planes to attack the U.S, only to have it relegated to one piece of information among hundreds being processed daily by the national security establishment. Trying to utilize social media to gather intelligence would exacerbate this problem.

    I agree with Gladwell’s general premise. The “weak ties” like those modeled by our friends and likes on Facebook, our tweets based on rumors and the like, are often noncommittal and unreliable. These problems in the context of intelligence gathering should be a deal-breaker. In an organization with only finite resources to expend, I would be skeptical that chasing leads gleaned from Twitter would be a better investment than using trusted, on-the-ground intelligence.

  18. In another class I just finished reading Benedict Anderson’s, “Imagined Communities,” in which he defines the nation as an imagined political community that is conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship. Strangers who would never interact with each other form connections through, as Anderson argues, the spread of print media. Reading the newspaper, while a solitary act, becomes a “mass ceremony” in which national actors connect simply on the basis that they are all consuming a presentation of the same set of juxtaposed events.

    This prompts me to wonder whether social media has the ability to generate this same sort of imagined community and whether, contrary to what Gladwell believes, “weak ties” that are devoid of physical interaction may in fact generate a longer term shift in social and political relations.

    As global citizens continue to update they connect with each other, I believe it’s critical that governments continue to monitor trends on social media and to observe how it impacts the formation of new political groups and communities. The rise of the nation as a dominant political form, while requiring action from above, was ultimately something that also needed a medium through which to connect people. Social media may still be in its infancy in its ability to effect social and political revolution.

  19. Times have changed since the 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement and other similar motions for social justice swept this nation and the world. As Gladwell quite accurately articulates, the activism of the 1960s was “strong-tie” activism; participants were closely connected to each other and had a real stake in the cause for which they were fighting. In contrast, today’s activity in terms of social justice or political dynamics are more about building an awareness of injustices and wrongs, or events like rallies and demonstrations. This new activism, typically characterized by inflammatory Twitter conversations and mass-attended Facebook events, creates what Gladwell terms “weak-ties.” By spreading word over social media, one is not only weakening the branches between the origin and the masses, but one is also eliminating the hierarchical structure inherent in previous social movements.

    While there has certainly been a shift in the form of informational spread over the past half-century, the change from strong to weak ties is not necessarily for the worse and is probably not something with which we want to interfere. The truth is, the sit-in in Greensboro, NC could never be re-enacted today. Society’s use of social media is far too incessant and ingrained for any event not to be captured by it. The sit-in in 1960 spread widely over the course of a few weeks — today, it would spread in minutes or hours. Gladwell argues that the movements of today lack teeth because there is less connection, but I disagree. I think that some movements that would not have received attention in the 1960s or before are receiving slightly more attention now, and other other movements, like the Civil Rights movement, which grew slowly but profoundly, would only grow more rapidly.

    In terms of the international arena, I think that it is very important to continue to strive to build as many strong-ties, or solid connections intra-nations and inter-nations while simultaneously mastering social media such that one’s motives can be widely achieved.

  20. One aspect of Gladwell’s article that has been significantly missing during this discussion is his analysis of the hierarchical nature of strong-ties and the lack of leadership in a network of weak-ties. Social media is clearly an example of a dispersed network of weak ties and whether as a source for international information-gathering or as a minefield of tips for journalists, social media’s very nature as a network rather than a hierarchy makes it difficult for international agencies or journalists to trace the origin of facts. Conversely, the lack of leadership and weak-ties in the social media network makes it very difficult for international leaders to utilize social media to pass on a uniform message or a uniform course of action. Whereas the 1960s Civil Rights Movement could have clearly looked to Martin Luther King, Jr. and other recognizable figures for instructions, the messy and disassociated nature of social media means that depending on whom an intelligence agency investigates or a journalist interviews, their information is completely variable. Thus, although social media has the possibility of reaching a larger number of people with weak-ties, it is liable to becoming an incredibly inaccurate source of information. Even if social media is relied upon as an exploratory informational source for intelligence agencies, it would require a great deal of fact-checking due to its lack of a hierarchy and systematic information dispersal structure.

  21. It seems that both strong and weak ties can play important roles at the state level. As Gladwell states, weak-tie connections can quickly provide us with an ocean of information, whereas strong-tie connections can be exploited for more acute impact, in a scenario that doesn’t require subversion of the established power structure (15). Hierarchy and high-risk activism help us to “promote strategic and disciplined activity,” whereas weak-tie networks help to “promote resilience and adaptability” (15). It seems like there is an equilibrium to be found here; although strong-tie activism might be considered the “traditional” form of action, it seems a bit silly to categorically condemn a lighter manner of social organization, e.g. social networks, which certainly have their own role to play, albeit in different circumstances (such as data-gathering versus tactical missions). Gladwell puts it well: “The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause” (15-16).

  22. Although “weak ties” provide a rapid and accessible way of receiving relevant information, I believe that there is another major internal pitfall of “weak ties” that has yet to be fully addressed. In his brief analysis of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Gladwell notes that one of its major flaws was that it was “excessively vulnerable to outside manipulation and internal strife.” With the rapid expansion of social media came not only an easier avenue for dispersing news articles and information but also personal opinions and knee-jerk reactions to other social movements. With the click of a button, it would be so easy to share an unfiltered thought (and, far worse, the possibility of spreading misinformation that could have a grave impact on a larger scale). Moreover, one important function of social media is the ability to filter the type of content that you see. Highly contrasting with the sit ins of the 1960’s which forcibly thrust conflict into your own immediate sphere, what you now have is the advent of a tool that allows you to tailor your media consumption to that which you see fit, making it harder and harder for social movements to find a solid, central force and develop a hierarchy which is seems inherently necessary for successful social movement.

    But looking even beyond internal social movement and looking at international cooperation and communication, “weak ties” may also serve to damage international relations as they may interfere with the strong, personal connection needed to develop strong ties. Moreover, international cooperation relies very heavily on the unification of multiple peoples’ opinions and goals, which is one of the benefits of forming “strong ties.” Perhaps weak ties is helpful in disseminating the initial critical mass of information needed to thrust an issue into the larger public’s eye, it is only strong ties that will allow large state players to act in accordance with one particular goal in mind.

  23. As most of my peers mentioned here, “weak ties” provide for a way in which information and intelligence can be collected rapidly and massively. But I am of the opinion that weak ties in no way can replace strong ties. Strong ties include diplomacy and HUMINT collection: the more traditional methods of collection. Even in an age where the internet and (what we are referring to as) weak ties are prevalent and hailed as the answer to IC collection woes, most do not realize that strong ties are the driving methods of intelligence collection.

    In fact, I would say that weak ties often muddle the collection process; they create far more noise in collection. That is, it increase collection capabilities, but has no effect on analysis capabilities, which means that more is collected, but not more is analyzed. And intelligence collected but not analyzed is just as effective as intelligence not collected. Certainly, if we had unlimited resources to devote to weak tie intelligence gathering, it may be useful, but with our limitations, I believe it’s necessary to focus our efforts mostly on strong ties.

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