In the aftermath of Super Bowl 48, this photo was circulated by UW-Madison students and organizations via Twitter:
This edited-picture of former Badgers Russell Wilson and Montee Ball seems to have been initiated by @sconnie at 7:30 P.M. @TheKollegeKlub immediately retweeted the picture and three minutes later tweeted the picture from its own Twitter handle. Between these two accounts the image was retweeted 204 times and favorited 185 times as of today. This does not include all of the people who retweeted and linked to the image from other accounts in their network.
The circulation of this image is an example of a significant development in post-industrial journalism termed “superdistribution” by C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky. According to these authors, superdistribution refers to the way a message can by redirected to a mass audience through networks. The key word here is “mass”. Similarly to how the printing press revolutionized mass communication through the reproduction of print, the openness of the Internet and social media have revolutionized mass communication online. A single post has the potential to reach millions, maybe even billions of people depending on the size of the author’s network, because of superdistribution.
However, superdistribution would not be possible without the community of connected individuals online, essentially the network. According to Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman in Networked, a new social operating system has emerged called “networked individualism”. In addition to a shift towards individual action as opposed to groups, this revolution means that people are more connected, have access to a wider range of information, and they can meet their social needs more efficiently.
It is ironic that the term is networked individualism because a social network today functions more like a collaborative effort as highlighted by Jeff Jarvis. Whether it is an amateur journalist like @sconnie or a professional journalist who initiates a topic of discussion, it is up to the network to confirm or reject the information by fact-checking, asking questions and linking to external sources.
Other than acting as a watchdog, which I will keep reiterating because it is so crucial for journalism past, present and future, the new network is significant because it reinforces weak ties, another concept explored by Rainie and Wellman. To me weak ties refers to acquaintances, distant friends and those social media connections that you have never actually met in person. Weak ties are crucial for sharing information and for broadening life experiences or exposure.
This is exactly why I brought up the Wilson-Ball photo. It is more than likely that a majority of those people who retweeted and favorited the tweet were weak ties to each other or to Wilson and Ball. However, these weak ties still banded together in an effort of support and celebration. The ability to mobilize people in support of a cause is the incredible power of networked individualism.