Is Digital Democratic?

By July 20, 2014The Net

There are a lot of assumptions of the inherent democratic nature of the internet. Mostly because of the way it started and because of the old media’s fascination with the idea of something … anything … going viral.

It’s like a wet dream for old broadcasters or newspaper/magazine circulation and sales managers but, does it really mean anything?

If you can’t ‘make’ something go viral. what is the point? There are lots of old style pitchmen trying to discover (or claiming they already have) the secret to making something go viral.

If they do have the secret, is it really viral?

John Wihbey wrote a fascinating article about just how undemocratic the digital world really is …

Rethinking Viral: Why the Digital World Is Not as Democratic as We Think[excerpt] First published June 9, 2014 on Pacific Standard

BY JOHN WIHBEY. An average citizen with just a few hundred Twitter followers fires off a 140-character zinger during the presidential debate. The message seems to spread rapidly, apparently leaping across personal networks and ultimately being shared around the country. A celebrity backs a human rights campaign by sharing a video on Facebook, setting off what appears to be a contagious chain of peer-to-peer sharing that finally commands a spot on the evening news.

Stories of communications pandemics abound. We live in the age of the viral phenomenon, where the potential for virality is ubiquitous. Every story, image, meme, and sentiment contains the ember of this hanging fire. The metaphor is meant to imply, of course, that a bit of information might ricochet and expand across a population as a virus would, branching out from a single, original node—a patient zero.

But do we have our mental models, and terminology, right? Does information on social media networks typically behave like a disease? No doubt, one can see what looks like dramatic proof—millions of pageviews, shares, Likes, or retweets. But what is typically going on beneath, within the network graph that connects all the dots?

Cover photo: A map of the internet.

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