“A word, phrase or topic that is mentioned at a greater rate than others” This is the basic definition for trending topic that you can find on internet (in Wikipedia we trust). Two words that measure the influence of any person, event or action both locally and globally.
No one escapes from the media power of social networks. And the development sector is not an exception. In our previous interview with Alison Meston, we have listened that one of the ways to measure the success of World Radio Day is based on the relevance of its hashtags worldwide. Trending topics follow the capitalist ideal: the bigger, the better. To what extent can we trust this information, and how can Big Data manipulate us?
Let’s first take a look inside World Radio Day. An event with more than 350 activities in almost 90 countries is also forced to use social media to demonstrate its profitability. Crazy, but real. UNESCO’s official Facebook (more than half a million followers) and Twitter (2.15M today) have been the two most used platforms to promote the English hashtag #WorldRadioDay.
On Facebook, the United Nations agency published a single post that received 260 likes and it was shared 177 times. That means that less than 0.05% of Facebook followers showed some kind of reaction to the event. On Twitter, the activity was much higher on February 13 and 14, with 11 tweets and 8 retweets. If we count all the retweets and likes, even those coming from other external accounts, we get 3672 interactions. So if we are extremely generous, we can say that a maximum of 0.17% of people have participated in the campaign.
Despite of this low rate of participation, #WorldRadioDay hashtag has been trending topic in several countries during February 13 and 14, which might suggest that the relevance of UNESCO’s accounts is insignificant when it comes to promoting its own event.
Two questions stand out about the rest: Why have UNESCO’s followers not been involved in promoting WRD? And, on the other hand, what is the real meaning or function of what we call ‘a follower’?
All studies on the relationship between internet and civic engagement are recent, and therefore they lack the time perspective. But there are already very interesting reflections. In their article The Structure of Online Activism, Kevin Lewis, Kurt Gray and Jens Meierhenrich analyzed the ‘Save Darfur Cause’, one of the biggest causes on Facebook, which it was created to raise money for the victims of the conflict in Sudan. With more than one million members, and more than $ 100,000 collected, the results leave no room for doubt: 99.72% of the members did not donate any money at all. We should read it again to really understand it. Of a million people who supported the cause by joining the group, less than three thousand collaborated with some donation. Welcome to clicktivism, welcome to hypocrisy a la carte.
Social interactions are mostly based on a fake desire to show up our self as someone engaged with development, world peace and so on, a paradise for the citizens who can now save the two coins that we used to give to the first beggar on the street. Solidarity bargains for everyone.
If we are more worried about what they will think of us instead of moving forward, what credibility should development organizations give to these social campaigns? Is it really a retweet, like or a trending topic something from we can predict real social change? Unless the organizations itself is also searching fake relevance, it does not look very appropriate.
On February 13th, #DiaMundialdelaRadio was top 8 on Twitter (the Spanish hashtag for WRD, the only one that was trending topic worldwide according to trendinalia.com). The same day top 1 was David Carr (American quarterback who died the day before), top 2 wished a Happy Friday and top 4 was about British sex positions.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Placing our hope for a better world in a random, circumstantial and easily manipulated parameter is not wise. We will cage development in a showcase with no effect other than to be seen. The lie is wearing a Science disguise on social networks. And as it is very common within a neoliberal system, truth is open to anyone who wants to see it. Go now to check any twitter account with millions of followers. ANY. Do you see all those egg heads in the followers section? They are mostly fake profiles, same as their interactions. A world fed by lies that influences you every single day.
Internet and social networks are powerful, but so they are powerful people and companies. It is still too easy to control the whole thing. As the report Blogs and Bullets – New Media in contentious politics concludes “in the real world, dictatorial regimes are not nearly as vulnerable, citizens are not nearly as organized and new media not nearly as powerful” as the optimistic assume. And it the same thing within democratic states. We have to understand Big Data as a working in progress tool, closer to marketing goals than social development.
In Darfur, trending topics do not exist, and the fact that we join virtual groups does not seem to help them too much. Perhaps it would be better to send radios, it seems rather more effective.