by Scott Cairns, NYU ’15
People have been meeting in book clubs, fantasy football leagues, and at their children’s soccer games long before the advent of the internet, so to say that social networks did not exist before the digital age would be a lie. It wasn’t, however, until online social networks became a ‘must-have’ that a massive protest movement like the Arab Spring or the worldwide Occupy movement really could become possible. The difference in the size can only be explained by people who previously were not involved in any ‘real world’ (non-digital) social network coming together and mobilizing across the world. It made such a difference in Egypt that a newborn baby in Egypt was christened ‘Facebook’ by his parents.
The difference, in my opinion, is the sheer amount of little social networks that one can belong to on the internet, rather than in person. From personal experience, I can tell you that it is impossible to be in two places at once. No matter how much one enjoys cooking and mystery novels, he or she cannot be at a book club AND a cooking class if they both meet once a week on Friday night. What he or she CAN do, however, is follow favorite authors on Twitter and ‘like’ them on Facebook, effortlessly and simultaneously connecting to others with the same interests. Chain about twenty or more of these little online book clubs and cooking classes together and the numbers begin to add up fast. Social clubs are not exclusive on the internet: you can belong to as many social networks with as many like-minded individuals as you like online, where people are meeting not once a week but 24/7.
Eva Anduiza of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and a speaker at this coming Friday’s conference on Social Media and Political Participation touches on this a bit in the abstract of her upcoming paper, ‘Connective Action and European Mass Protest,’ where she talks of the internet’s potential to create ‘individual linkages through the personalization of collective frames.’ Essentially, Twitters and Facebooks are the ultimate personalizers of the social experience. Like a large scale version of online dating, everyone is now simultaneously friends with or followers of people just like them with the same interests, opinions, and dreams for their country or world.
To learn more about our upcoming conference on Social Media and Political Participation, click here.
To join the conference conversation on social media, click here.
To learn more about the latest research at NYU in the field of social media and political participation, click here visit the online lab of NYU Professor and conference organizer Joshua Tucker.