Nearly 500 years ago, March 1517 to be exact, Social media was born, and rapidly demonstrated its power. On that warm spring day, Martin Luther “posted” his list of “95 Theses on the power and efficacy of Indulgences” on the local social media site, the church door, and inadvertently started a movement that would split the church. His individual action was just a single one, protesting at the aggressive marketing of Indulgences by church authorities, but to have the effect it did, required a whole bunch of other things to be aligned to take off. Similarly, the self immolation of shopkeeper Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in 2011 focused the unrest in Tunisia , that led to the replacement of the Tunisian dictator.
Martin Luther was outraged that locals could buy “indulgences” sold by church clerics, which acted as paid confessions, removing the ritual of the confession and contrition, and wanted to stimulate a debate at the university on the topic. What happened is that a local printer who had one of these new fangled printing presses reproduced the 95 theses, and sold them, rapidly creating a movement that had all the hallmarks of a modern social media movement.
As Clay Shirky tells it, there are three conditions that lead to a social media led change:
Everyone knows the system is broken
Everyone knows that everyone knows the system is broken
Everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows the system is broken.
When you get to this third level, it all blows up apart, and that is exactly what happened in Germany in 1517, and again in 1989 when the wall fell, in Tunisia in 2011, and is still rolling through the Arab world.
The tools of social media have changed, but the nature of human activity and collaboration has not. In the 21st century we want the same things our forebears wanted, and are prepared to fight for them, it is just that the tools are a bit different.