Tweets about Ernesto Laclau

[Amended: 15/04/2014 22:24 to reflect better stats on the links being shared]

As a number of other bloggers have highlighted, and as I noted on Twitter, the political philosopher Ernesto Laclau sadly passed away on the 13th of April. There is an excellent obituary on the publisher Verso’s blog, which is worth reading.

Like, I think, a lot of others I discovered this news on Twitter and, as is the modus operandi of the tweeter, I re-tweeted the tweets through which I discovered the news. I certainly do not intend to trivialise this news, but what is quite interesting about the spread of this sad news is that while the English spread of the news on twitter was largely driven by retweets, a lot of which linked to a story in the English language Buenos Aires Herald, the Spanish spike in tweets was not wholly driven by retweets.

There was, therefore, a muted version of a @BBCBreaking sort of effect in English tweets, in the way that there was for example with the news about the death of Peaches Geldof (again, I’m not seeking to trivialise that news or intervene in the discussions about whether or not there was genuine grief being expressed). So, for a ‘concerned public’ (in this case those who are at least partly familiar with Laclau, his work and the topics it addresses) social media became a conduit and key actor in the movement of the information in different ways.

I ran a quick search on ScraperWiki, from yesterday, that encompasses the relevant dates and used some of the tools we have been developing for the Contagion project to look at the time series of tweets and in particular the movement of the news between Spanish and English. We can see how the initial spike of tweets in Spanish leads the spike in English by approximately an hour (please bare in mind that the Spanish tweets are more numerous by an approximate multiple of ten).

Now, the spike in tweets in English can be mostly, but not quite wholly, attributed to retweets of the link to an English language article posted on the Buenos Aires Herald. Yet, there remains a majority of the tweets in the Spanish spike that are a case of other forms of ‘passing it on‘. Tweets featuring a direct link (some as shortened URLs) to the Buenos Aires Herald article account for over a half (at various moments in the spike) of all English tweets between 8pm and midnight on 13th April, and a few more of these tweets link to Stuart Elden’s blog post that links on to the Buenos Aires Herald.

So, its interesting to see how the combination of an emergent ‘public’ convened around that news and the somewhat phatic interaction of re-tweeting once the movement of easily shared links begins (this is related to what Martin Thayne discussed in a paper about Facebook in the issue of Culture Machine I co-edited with Patrick Crogan). This speaks to what Steve Hinchliffe and I have been trying to get at with the definition of ‘contagion’, inspired by Tony Sampson’s Thrift-ian reading of Tarde, as the ‘movement of movement’ – the sense in which the various intersecting constituents of a public / a network, propagate and in some senses ‘accelerate’ the iteration and mutation, hence difference, in repetition.

Obviously, there’s more to what we do, and, indeed, more to do, in this kind of critical theory-inflected analysis of virality in social media and that’s what I’m busy working out with both Steve and our diligent research fellow Rebecca Sandover, who has recently presented some initial ideas from the project at the AAG (the abstract linked here isn’t quite what was presented but it gives you a flavour!).

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