Have you ever participated in an online political movement through Twitter? More specifically, have you participated in a viral movement on Twitter? If you’ve tweeted with a trending hashtag, chances are that you have. Do you ever wonder how viral movements are established and sustained? ZiZi Papacharissi’s Affective Publics uses affect to explain how viral movements on Twitter emerge and maintain momentum.
In simplstic terms, affect is the intensity involved in how the public interprets and responds to an event. In the case of Twitter, the public experiences an event through multiple perspectives shaped by the flow of retweets, mentions and commentary. Twitter is an ideal platform for voicing opinions and spreading widespread knowledge. It strengthens individual perspectives and connective expression through naturally formed and free organizing outside formalized structures of democracy and organizations. The instant transmission of information on Twitter gives access to information as an event occurs.
Establishing a viral movement on Twitter is difficult. As an individualized platform, Twitter requires values differing from traditional Western mass media norms. Analyzing the 2011 #egypt movement on Twitter, Pappacharissi notes that instantaneity, crowd-sourcing of elites, solidarity, and ambience sustain virality. As stated before, instantaneity provides access to information in real-time, it also allows access to information at any time. Crowd-sourcing of elites allow hashtag movements to dominate news streams that develop online. Two groups of elites emerge from Twitter movements: mainstream media and an aggregate of bloggers, activists, and intellectuals. Retweets, mentions, and comments reveal who elites are.
Crowd-sourcing of elites forms organically throughout viral movements. Dominance in mentions, retweets, and comments determine elites. Though mainstream media try to balance their values of news organization with those involved in movements, as the movement progresses, objective information will become indistinguishable from opinion. As troubling as that sounds for disseminating unbiased, accurate news, affect impacting accounts of events related to a viral movement is crucial to sustaining a movement. Combining emotions, drama, opinion and fact to produce affectively driven content develops narratives that lead to the possible assembly of events. Papacharissi’s analysis of the #egypt movement revealed that emotive, conversational tweets reached prominence. “Prominent and popular tweets are reproduced and endorsed, contributing to a stream that did not engage the reader cognitively but primarily emotionally.” (p. 58)
Solidarity connects individual leaders with crowd-sourced elites, further validating a conversational atmosphere. Solidarity can lead to networked frames that portray movements in particular perspectives. Elites’ shared support for movements combined with individualized experiences shape movements to what the public prefers. Participants in the #egypt movement framed it as a revolution. The last value, ambience, is also crucial to sustaining viral movements. The sense of community established through movements results in “an always-on news and social environment” that continues the movement online and offline. Users will continuously repost information about the movement to keep the conversation going.
To recall, establishing and maintaining a viral political movement on Twitter relies on the instantaneity of the platform and crowd-sourcing of elites to elevate and bring greater awareness to the movement’s purpose. It also relies on solidarity creating an informal environment and ambience to continue to movement. Though creating and maintaining a social movement is easier said than done, Affective Publics yields meaningful insight into this area of social media use.