Thoughts go out to everyone in Paris . #prayforparis
— Louis Tomlinson (@Louis_Tomlinson) November 14, 2015
One tweet from One Direction member Louis Tomlinson during the Paris attacks summarily proves the true impact of celebrity and the existence of the global connectivity so often espoused by the likes of Barack Obama, Bono and Mark Zuckerberg.
A new study by Western University’s CulturePlex Lab, led by Juan Luis Suárez, charted approximately 4.3 million tweets in the wake of the Paris attacks on November 13 and found that one tweeted by Tomlinson at 6:47 a.m. on November 14 was the most active and widely shared Twitter message related to the event with more than 173,000 retweets and 208,000 likes.
“There is a direct correlation represented here in regards to how people react to celebrity and how much impact celebrities truly have,” explains Suárez, a Digital Humanities professor in Western’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the Director of the CulturePlex Lab. “This study shows how powerful you are if you are a super-connector. Companies are using super-connectors for marketing, political parties are using them for campaigns and we show here that pop culture and celebrity are an immediate gateway to these types of events worldwide.”
Suárez says that super-connectors like Tomlinson, who has 20.7 million Twitter followers (and counting), have an unbelievable amount of power to persuade when you consider that they generate immediate reaction from thousands if not millions of people.
“If you expand that to marketing, commerce, politics and other areas of influence – if you understand how it works, it can be a very powerful tool for good and for bad, as we have seen with the ISIS problem,” explains Suárez. “An investigation like this also shows how connected we are globally. That’s very important. We hear a lot about our connectivity in the media and in research, but now we are starting to see the effects. It shows us that knowledge and information transfer immediately around the globe.”
Tweets illustrated by the interactive graphic titled, “Paris Attack in Tweets” were tracked by Suárez and his research collaborators Javier de la Rosa and David Brown from 3:53 p.m. EST on November 13 to 9:23 p.m. EST on November 14.
While a complete digital analysis of the data has yet to be completed, Suárez theorizes that the activity highs and lows are directly related to regions of the world most influenced by Parisian culture and the lack of connectivity in some of the developing countries.
“I think the hot spots are related to the fact that Paris is very dear to all of the culture in the world, but specifically Western culture, and shows just how much Paris means to all of us,” offers Suárez. “And where we see less activity that has a lot to do with the limits of connectivity in some parts of the world.”
In that context, CulturePlex Lab also collected data from the Mali attack on November 21 and recorded about 400,000 related tweets – or one tenth of the Paris amount – in twice the amount of time. The researchers also tracked tweets related to the earthquake that struck Japan and nearly the same time as the Paris attacks and collected about 1 million tweets that mentioned Japan, as opposed to the 4.2 million tweets that mentioned Paris.
“It is very interesting to see how different the maps play out when you take into account the different origins of these events,” says Suárez.
As a digital historian, Suárez is fascinated by this level of investigation and looks forward to further analysing the data that has been collected.
“Suddenly, everything that you suspected about the past, you see them happening in the present. You see how culture effects everything. It’s so neat to see that there is an immediate effect in terms of language, news, information, and words and communication in general, and how these types of events effect the behaviour of people in this massive amount of scale.”
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