Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Politics, Disasters, News, Viral News, and a World of Wonder

"Shock and Awe: Viral News Is Good News"
Epicenter, Wired (February 9, 2010 )

"The way I see it, the perfect popular news story has at least one of the following elements: blaming Barack Obama, hating Sarah Palin, or sex. If someone wrote an article called 'Obama to blame for sex that made Sarah Palin stupid,' it would probably break the internet.

"But, according to a new study, I might be wrong.

"In a world full of negative news, scandals and gossip, what makes a story go viral, and get shared by readers? That's the question two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania answer in a recent study...."

"...If there's a common thread running through frequently e-mailed stories it's that popular ones force people to look at the world differently. Surprising stories, and particularly ones that either reverse an existing idea or make people realize the scale of the world, were e-mailed. Science stories did surprisingly well, even longer and more complicated ones, because they shook what people thought they knew...."

"...the stories that got passed around the most were those that were 'surprising, practically useful, emotion laden and positive.' Practical information was shared often, but positive and inspirational articles were the most viral. Awe, according to an algorithm created to judge the tone and emotional content of articles, was actually the biggest predictor of whether or not a story would be frequently e-mailed.

"And the idea holds: Right now, the most-e-mailed story from The New York Times isn't about earthquakes, or governors who may or may not have had sex with that woman. It's an opinion column called 'America Is Not Yet Lost.'..."

Well, whadaya know! I'm not the only one.

I've written before, why this blog is called "Apathetic Lemming of the North." (September 9, 2007) It's not that I don't care about things: it's that I don't care - deeply, irrationally, frantically - about the 'right' things. Or, for much of my academic career, left things.

From the looks of this admittedly-limited study, most people aren't writhing in agony over the vast right-wing conspiracy, global warming, whoever is in the White House at the moment, or which Congressman's aid turned up dead this year.

There's a world of wonder and awe out there: maybe old-school news editors might consider looking up from their Class of '69 yearbooks and taking a peek.

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