Everyone is rightly furious at Tracy Morgan over his homophobic and sexist rant at his stand-up show last weekend. But he may have just helped prove Mark Zuckerberg’s thesis that Facebook makes the world a more open place.
What’s a Tweet worth? Are your Facebook “friends” really your friends?
The relative value of social media has been a topic of debate among culturalists since it first became clear that the novel new communication tool was here to stay, but grew especially heated in the wake of Iran’s 2009 uprising and then in this winter’s Middle East protests, both of which relied heavily on social media to mobilize.
On the one hand you have Malcolm Gladwell, perhaps the most famously outspoken social media skeptic, claiming that social media adds no real value to the world.
Gladwell even discounted the role Twitter and Facebook supposedly played in Iran and Egypt by citing the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and revolutions throughout history that initiated change without the use of technology. To Gladwell, social media activism is “weak tie” activism that increases the number of your connections by digitizing them, and therefore weakening them by necessity.
On the other hand, you had those social movements’ participants praising the technology’s role in their own efforts. When asked what was next for the region, Wael Ghonim, leader of Egypt’s protest movement, said, “Ask Facebook,” by which he meant, “Ask people like us, who mobilize via Facebook.”
Gladwell claims that social media activation is not “real,” but to the Egyptians who woke one morning to find Hosni Mubarak deposed and the national military pledging loyalty to Egypt’s citizens, the results of their ‘Facebook revolution’ no doubt felt very real.
Last week, Tracy Morgan performed a stand-up routine in which he went on a sexist and homophobic tirade, insisting that if his son were gay, he would stab him, and that women should be at home making food, not out becoming CEOs.
What’s more, he attacked the anti-bullying movement that sprung up last fall after several gay teens killed themselves over peer bullying abuse.
Thanks to a Facebook post by Kevin Rogers, who was in the audience when Morgan spurted his invective, the story has blown up into one of this week’s lead news stories—perhaps second only to Weinergate, another scandal ignited by social media.
Morgan has been shamed, and rightly so, by news outlets who have unequivocally condemned his attack. Before the advent of social media, this would only have become front-page news had Morgan’s tirade been filmed or otherwise documented, as seen in Michael Richards’ racist rant.
With the increased conversational chatter in the social media age, however, and the ascent of that chatter’s cultural influence, stories like Morgan’s can propagate.
When asked what his goal is for Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg once answered “to make the world a more open place.” No matter how alienating you find social media or how thin thin the value of its communications seem to you, you have to admit that the viral Facebook and Twitter memes—be it of Anthony Weiner’s weiner, a damning story about Tracy Morgan, or a campaign to overthrow a dictator—tend to be about truth, and tend to be positive.
The viral social media forces tend towards accountability. And to those in Egypt, or those offended by social stigma like those perpetuated by Morgan, the positive results feel quite real. This is perhaps the only positive slant on Morgan’s disgusting tirade. The outrage against him is helping prove Facebook, as Zuckerberg hoped, is helping make the world a more open place.