The Strength of the Online Collective

From what I have observed of the unique rules of the Internet, nothing is worth knowing unless it has been shared. The idea of a unique event occurring, then being presented through mass media in its ritualised form, inspiring awe and stopping the nation, is seemingly a thing of the past. Social media has infiltrated even the most stalwart of old media institutions, the nightly news, with banners appearing under talking heads of reporters directing viewers to their Twitter accounts. Perhaps it is the reproduction of the mundane details of the ordinary lives of millions of users through social media, thereby bestowing significance upon the everyday, that is causing the shift from ‘newsworthy’ to ‘buzzworthy’.

The driving force of collective sharing online is demonstrated well on the microblogging site Tumblr. On the remarkably easy-to-use site, content can rapidly become popular through ‘reblogging’, the practice of repeating a meme, photoshopped graphic, photo of breathtaking scenery etc. on one’s own ‘dashboard’. People control what they see on their dashboard by selecting certain users to ‘follow’. They can create a select group of online friends with whom they usually share one or more interests in common.

A recent example of the collective strength of the site was the adoption of a purple-themed background for the site and the thousands of reblogs made of inspirational quotes related to the ‘Spirit Day: Wear Purple’ event in memory of the young Americans who took their own lives this year after suffering exclusion and hate because they were identified as homosexual by their peers.

The sheer amount of reblogs for a particular cause like this demonstrates the underlying motivation for many users as identified by Clay Shirky: “the coming change in group effort in general, is in part predicated on the ability to make nonfinancial motivations add up to something of global significance” (2008, 133). The incremental contributions of individual users can add up to a perennial flow of information that can inspire people to utilise their power as a member of a collective.

Further Reading:

Shirky, Clay. (2008) Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. London: Penguin Press.

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