Can a trending topic create a social movement?

Through the growth of technology and communication the inkling of an idea can become a full-scale movement. By looking at Shirky’s earlier discussions on communications and broadcast media, and later discussions of promise, tool, and bargain we can see how quickly a group is able to form out of common interest and take that interest to the next level by creating change.

The growth of technology comes into play when looking at the ‘tool’ portion of the group’s success. Because a member of the group is able to relay information to the masses (broadcast media) and at the same time receive feedback and engage in conversation with other members of the group (communications media) technology is able to assist the spreading of information in groups.

The ability to form groups out of common (or not so common) interests can be catalyzed by websites such as Meetup. As Shirky says, “We gather together because we like to, and because it is useful” (195). One case is to look at Twitter. While it isn’t defined as such, Twitter is essentially an extremely large group of people who like to talk. Common interests are discovered through the people who tweet about the same things and/or use the same hashtags. Trending topics are a way to see which common interests are the most popular at the current time. Twitter is the prime example of watching an idea grow.

In the Epilogue, Shirky relays a brief account of a post-movie group formation after a showing of Michael Moore’s Sicko. After the movie, Josh Tyler observes that people were quickly rallied into doing something after seeing the movie, and were able to do so through common interest and the ability to gather enough information to form an e-mail group. This example shows how the promise of a successful group was established through the reaction to the movie, and how the tools to form a group so quickly were already available. However, as Josh Tyler observes, no one seemed to know what this ‘do something’ was. While the large part of ‘bargain’ was left out of this group’s success, it is still easy to see how one movie could have inspired a social change.

Since the formation of groups and ability to change has come so readily accessible, would a trending topic have the ability to trend long enough to create a social movement?

Danica Whitfield

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This entry was posted in Winter 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can a trending topic create a social movement?

  1. brittanyverner says:

    I would think that a trending topic can create a social movement and this was evident in the Kony2012 movement. With the help of online social tools, what started as a small group grew so big that President Obama sent troops over to help with the situation.

  2. rebeccaashleynathan says:

    For the most part, I agree with the above statement: that a trending topic might have the ability to trend long enough to create a social movement. HOWEVER, the argument is not that simple. The benefit of spreading the word via the intenet, and creating a “trending topic” so to speak is that it is extremely easy and fast to get the word out. Just the click of a button sends the message from computer to computer around the world! The negative aspect of these types of movement is that there are people that sit behind their computers and want to be a part of the trend thus feel motivated to re-post, forward, etc. But how many of these users do more than that? The reality is very few. There is great power with the internet, but I hope that our generation does not just spread positive messages and have opinions just to be a part of the trend, but rather to truly incite changes we believe in. I hope we move from behind our computer screens to action.

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