Thursday 24 March 2016

Tell Everyone

Finished March 19
Tell Everyone: Why We Share & Why It Matters by Alfred Hermida

This book looks at the phenomenon of sharing information online. UBC professor Alfred Hermida looks at social media, digital journalism, and online storytelling in this interesting analysis on how we are social creatures in this new environment.
Chapter one looks at news sharing. Hermida looks at instances where this was done well, like the movie theatre shooting in Colorado, and instances where misinformation had the upper hand like the Boston Marathon bombing. He puts this in the historical context of news dissemination from newsboys hawking on street corners to the mix of comedy and journalism in venues such as The Daily Show. He looks at how ordinary people now have the ability to refute "official" versions of a news event. He examines issues such as context loss and the illusion of privacy.
The second chapter looks at the psychology behind the urge to share. From social capital to bonding, personal expression as a means of defining ourselves, to the kinds of relationships we develop online, this looks at sharing more closely. Hermida looks at what benefits we get from sharing including self-fulfillment to helpfulness to a feeling of connection.
Chapter three looks at what kinds of information we share. Most of it aligns with the kinds of things we share when we socialize in person: what we are doing, gossip, updates on news, and the kind of "wow" stories that often lean toward urban legend. Emotional impact of a story drives us to share more widely. Interestingly, social media tends toward sharing positive news, the opposite of traditional media, although sad can be appealing to share if it is framed in a hopeful way. Fear is not a driving force in sharing, but anger can be, especially if it offers a connection to a personal experience. Disgust is also a strong driver.
Chapter four looks at how connections play a role. Celebrities sharing everyday experiences, people sharing reactions to news events in a "where were you when" sort of way, How the news reaches us rather than us going looking for it. Hermida looks at this in historical and cultural context as well as the algorithms present in social media and how they influence what we see. He shows that the common idea that social media causes us to be in "filter bubbles" where we only see news with the same view that we have personally is not actually true. The way that information moves in social media can counter this selective lean and bring us broader viewpoints. One of the most interesting historical tidbits in the book came in this chapter. Early newspapers offered blank space for people to add their own news and comments before sending the newspaper on from the city to rural friends and family. Some even were designed to be folded up with a space to put an address for mailing on. Historical instances of this use have proved quite interesting from a social history viewpoint.
The fifth chapter looks at who has risen from the ranks in terms of social news sharing to be more well known, whether it is as a trusted source that others find and build up through referrals, or through mass appeal. This type of influence tends to be more ephemeral in nature in social media than it has been traditionally.
Chapter six looks at the role of dissemination of information in crisis situations. Hermida looks at sharing of information from the Japanese earthquake of 2011 and compares it to how information was shared about the Portuguese earthquake of 1755. The dissemination was slower, naturally, in 1755, but the pattern was similar. He shows how the collective sharing of this type of information can even beat official channels in terms of how fast a warning can get out to those who need to know. Other events he looks at are the Haiti earthquake of 2010, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Queensland flooding in 2011. He also talks about the disaster myth. This is the idea that people who are most affected by a natural disaster are stunned by the situation and unable to help themselves. In reality, victims are often the most likely to step in and help others around them.
Chapter seven looks a consumer power in this information context. Social media gives individuals the voice to speak out against companies and governments to tell their side of the story when traditional media doesn't give them a voice. Hermida looks at how companies have handled this, both well and badly. He discusses how early social media reaction to products or services can be good forecasting tools for the success of such offerings. Fans can become ambassadors for a brand if handled well.
Chapter eight looks at the darker side of online information sharing, when lies and rumours take on a life of their own and spread, affecting reputations and situations in a negative and damaging way. He discusses what signs we can look for to determine with such information is true or false, sometimes looking at the nuances of language or details and sometimes stepping back and looking at the bigger picture of data around a situation or new event.
The last chapter is on the politics of online information. From the Arab Spring to Idle No More, individual voices have made a difference to outcomes despite political pressure and mainstream media to silence those voices.
This was a very interesting look at social media and its role in our lives.

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