Quick Updates on the NASA Diwali Image Phenomenon : Socially Constructed Thruths and the Persistence of Popularity

October 26th ( 2:40 Pm Chicago Time Less than 48 hrs on) ;66, 248 Shares  ( three times over 22,000 before)

October 25th ( 14 hrs on)

Remember in my original post I had speculated that as India would wake up , we would see an exponential rate of increase in the alternate truth. Yes the 1000 odd shares on that thread have grown to 23,000 ( in 12 -13 hrs) in that thread ( potential audience of 7-8 million just from this source).

Interestingly, there were many counter-voices in some of the threads that circulated who argued with similar logic as to why the image was not one of Diwali.Some of these even pointed out to the original website of the image confirming that it wasn’t a Diwali image.  Yet the Euphoria continues to persist.

To me it reflects that on Social Media, once certain facts get socially constructed, it is very hard to let alternate facts percolate. In other words, their popularity will continue to persist, even though they have been proven wrong! There seems little room for course correction.

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Social Media and The Problem with ‘Socially Constructed Truths’ : Why all Believed that the NASA Picture Was Clicked on Diwali

India and her diaspora worldwide was excited about Divali, (the festival of lights), and for good reason. A day before Divali,  October 25 2011 3:30 pm CT, I noticed that a map had become a ‘Facebook hit’. In less than 5 hrs,  the link had first appeared it had already been shared by 1000 odd people ( giving it a potential audience of at least 200,000). Remember I am reporting figures for only 1 thread that I could trace.

An idea took form that the picture was an illumination of the country on Diwali night. Of course most people related the distinct, yellow, green and red dots to the colors of fireworks.  When it popped on my wall ( as the 950th share) I immediately questioned that Colombo(Sri Lanka), Lahore (Pakistan) and Delhi could not be celebrating divali with the same ‘illumination’. (Some even speculated these were the remnants of Hindu legacies in these cities!) Also why would people in certain areas burst green colored fireworks when the rest of the country was bursting yellow.

Leave that, it was easy to explain the map if one understood some   development parameters and grade school geography of the region ( Electrical Connectivity and Population Density, Location of the cities, Mountains).

So I decided to question how could the illumination be different from any other night (when the Power grid hadn’t failed)? I commented with my reservations on the wall of the friend who had shared this with me. Seeing some merit in my reservations, he digged the original source of the picture and indeed found it had nothing to do with Divali. He found the original source on FB itself, when someone else like me ( a friend of a friend of his) had commented on their common friend’s share of this post with similar concerns and found this link.

But our counter-currents are far and few between. That they are the complete truth does not matter . As I write, the Indian diaspora on Facebook believes that the map is indeed a NASA picture clicked on a Divali evening. I am sure in a few hours when Indians wake up this ‘socially constructed truth’ will spread further and more widely. ( See my update tracking the numbers)

To me this is the grim reality of online social media!

Happy Divali Regardless

Twittervolutions aren’t Real Revolutions: Why India needs to take to the Streets

Recently there has been a lot of debate over what role social media, twitter in particular  played in the uprisings in the Middle East. Many said these platforms were important but others pushed the envelope by saying that these revolutions wouldn’t be successful without social media. The ongoing case of Anna Hazare’s fast unto death against Lokpal Bill in India is a natural experiment to test these arguments.

As I write: On ground: Sh Hazare’s fast has entered the second day today. There seems some momentum (150-200 people at Jantar Mantar) similar numbers in central locations in some other cities around the country.

On twitter: Thousands of people are tweeting their support.Many thousands more are ‘retweeting’ these tweets further. The topics are also top trends in twitter. There are 20-30 new tweets flowing in every minute for the last 3 hrs at least.  I ask ‘SO WHAT’.

I suspect the actual impact is nowhere as strong as the volume of tweets would suggest.Get into the content of tweets.

  1. It is mostly self styled opinion leaders, film stars and other celebrities enhancing their own brand value by tweeting for a good cause. These tweets are being retweeted by their followers.
  2. Another category of tweets is the news channels trying to enhance their viewership by seeking opinion polls and advertising telecasts related to the issues.
  3. Of course some jokes are among the most circulated tweets.

In sum, there is no collective action being planned actively on twitter nor is twitter contributing to more people joining the actual movement.

Overall the movement remains as strong or weak as it would have remained without this social media intervention. Perhaps there is greater awareness but to my mind tweeting about this is not very different for a majority of people than say congratulating the Indian team for winning the cricket world cup.

In short, despite the immense exuberance on social media, this revolution is yet to become exuberant on the steets, which was the defining aspect of Middle East uprisings. For instance, Interntional news websites (like BBC, CNN and NYT) do not even have a mention of it on their home pages.

They and many others will only take note when Indians in large numbers  take their tweets to the streets.

To become comfortable with the new, learn from the old:FaceBook and the Phone-Book

Recently a friend informed me about how she ‘unfriends’ people in her FB list from time to time. These are mostly people who she doesn’t perceive any reason for them to be in her network. I thought she was an odd one out. But a small survey (among my FB network) revealed that 2/3rd of my 50 respondents deleted existing friend connections regularly.

I do admit that my FB network isn’t exactly restricted to friends. Many, in fact are less than acquaintances. If I run through the complete list, I am sure I won’t remember when I last interacted with at least 50% of the people. Worse for about some10% I even won’t know who they are!
However, it never really bothers me that there are people on my Facebook who aren’t really friends or acquaintances. For reasons I will explain here:

Think of a typical social interaction today – Say I meet a friend’s friend at a dinner. We talk and one of us suggests that we stay in touch. The next day s/he sends me an FB request. We never really interact after that and perhaps ever won’t but remain on each others’ FB.
Rewind 5 years – Same people. Similar meeting place. Similar conversations. One suggests we stay in touch. I take out my mobile phone, ask his/her number and give a missed call. Consequently we have each others’ numbers on our cellphone address books.
Rewind 20 years – We pull out our pocket telephone/address diaries and store (write) each others’ contact details down. ( Someone in the group is organized enough to carry a pen or we ask the bearer at the restaurant!)

At what stage did one delete these so called lapsed contacts from one’s phone or a diary. When one ran into space problems, or bought a new phone or a new diary and had to transfer contacts.

FB basically allows you to create a very elaborate phone diary with extensive details (of course access controlled) that you can link to one another. Yes FB in principal is nothing more than a digital manifestation of the good old telephone/address diary. Except that there is no limitations of size or memory.
Thinking of FB as a the new shared, crowd-sourced phone book, you could perhaps stop deleting your unwanted friends.
Of course do not forget to invoke your privacy settings when you add a connection!

One cent per character : Will celebrities help Twitter monetise?

So as expected twitter has finally started talking more concretely about its revenue strategies interestingly they have taken to advertising (promoted tweets) as the primary driver along with some exploration into paid accounts. This is an article that talks about these in some detail.

I somehow feel that it is the celebrity accounts of twitter that can give it its much needed revenue stream. Think of the number of followers that celebrities on twitter have generated. Shashi Tharoor ( India’s external affairs minister) has 715,000 followers, Priyanka Chopra ( a bollywood actress) has 250,000 and so on so forth. Even celebrities with a niche appeal say popular journalists (Like Thomas Friedman has over 50,000 followers). So What?

What if twitter begins to charge everyone who has greater than a certain follower base size, a small amount of money on a fixed basis? Would these guys pay? I am sure their respective PR companies will advise them to pay. After all some 750,000 Indians chose to invest their time in receiving updates about their foreign minister’s activities . Can priyanka chopra choose to ignore her fan base of 250,000 people now that she has started actively engaging with them?

I would be interested in answers.