I recently published a novel titled Canine Plague. The premise of the book is based on a flawed medical study, which becomes viral on social media, causing a near collapse of our social structure . I dedicated a chapter where the protagonist, Steven Bryant, describes to a neighbor how virality in social media sometimes takes on a life of it’s own. He posits a theory that suggests a correlation between viral social media stories and swarm theory. Below is the content of that chapter. It’s an interesting concept about how technology affects our social structure.
While the novel takes it a step out of the realm of reality by suggesting some type of implied intelligence, it’s an interesting concept worthy of further research in social science.
An excerpt from the chapter is presented below. You might find it interesting as well.
FROM CHAPTER 31
Gary stopped by Steven’s house to remind him they had sentry duty that night, but more than anything, he just wanted to talk. They’d been good friends for some time, but since the violence had begun, Gary had looked at Steven as a mentor of sorts. He valued his judgment, but more than anything, Steven was one of the few who appreciated his warped sense of humor. They had just sat down with their coffees and were talking about how recent events had transpired. Gary asked Steven if he was still trying to stay on top of social media trends, having just seen a post that morning about how influential Facebook and Twitter had become.
Even though the power was out, Steven was able to keep his family’s cell phones charged with his small, portable solar charging unit, designed for just that purpose. Fortunately, the local area had managed to keep the generators going on their cell towers, but Steven expected that wouldn’t last long. He had been using his cell phone to access Facebook, his Proclivus app, and other sources to try to keep up with the latest news from outside their area.
“Social media has become a force in itself now,” said Steven. “It reminds me of swarm behavior.”
Gary looked at Steven, wondering if he’d lost his mind. “Once again, buddy, you’ve managed to talk over my head. I think you might be taking this whole zombie apocalypse thing too seriously. I suppose you’re going to enlighten me on what the hell you’re talking about?”
“Swarm theory is something scientists and mathematicians have been studying for years, Gary. Have you ever watched a giant flock of birds swirling in the air and wondered how they seem to collectively make changes in their flight path?”
“Uh..no. Actually that’s never crossed my mind, Steven. Sometimes I wonder what’s going on in that weird head of yours?”
“Look. It’s a phenomenon that occurs with birds, insects, fish and even animal herds. In any large assembly of these animals, there’s always one or more in the lead when they’re on the move, yet they manage to stay grouped together in a nearly poetic movement, with a shape that is constantly changing, but they remain together as if managed by a collective intelligence. Humans don’t do that, yet we’re the most intelligent of animals.”
“Okay, now that you mention it, I have seen that kind of thing. So, what’s the connection to social media?” asked Gary.
“Think about it. People see a meme on Facebook, they start sharing it and it becomes viral. Happens all the time, right? Before long, it becomes a movement, a cause cé·lè·bre if you will, often defying the rules of the status quo. How else can you explain how Bernie Sanders’s became so popular with young people? Here’s a grumpy old man, who before the election season was considered nothing more than a joke and oddity, some kind of anathema or anomaly in political circles. How is it that this eccentric old coot inspired so many young people? They don’t have the slightest idea how economically illiterate Sanders is. Heck, they wouldn’t care if they did. These are the same people who by most definitions are narcissistic, self-loving people that wouldn’t give an old man the time of day. But once they see their friends climbing on the bandwagon, they feel the need to do so too. It’s like they’re compelled to contribute to some higher intelligence. That part can be partially explained by the classic bandwagon appeal. But with social media, it’s growth becomes exponential and it takes on a life of its own. The individuals still contribute to it, but its shape is determined by the overwhelming numbers that move it in one direction or another. No single person or entity can control it. It’s like it’s a living organism using collective intelligence.”
“Crap, Steven,” said Gary. “There you go again, seeing the weirdest things and somehow making it sound right. I would have never thought of that.”
“The same can be said about Donald Trump. Let’s face it, politically, Trump is all over the board. Sure, he’s resonated with the public because of their disdain for political correctness, but that’s not all of his appeal. After all, he’s not the first to embrace that fact. And frankly, politically he’s a neophyte and has little command of how global economics works. It really doesn’t matter anymore because the movement has gained enough momentum to sustain itself without further justification. Once again, it’s alive.”
“That’s some creepy shit, man. You know what? You’re not right in the head. I’m probably going to have nightmares about this crap now. Hell, this smarmy-ass social media organism is probably hiding under my bed already.”
Steven chuckled, savoring that image of Gary hiding under the covers from the Facebook monster. Karma I guess, after all the pranks he’s pulled on the rest of us.
“Well, it’s something to think about anyway. And if that creeps you out, think about this. What if when something like this happens, the universe feels it, then inserts a counteract to make sure it doesn’t take over the world?”
“Dude, I’m seriously getting worried about you. How did you get like this? Did your momma drop you on your head when you were a baby or something? You’re sounding like John Travolta in that movie, Phenomenon. Did you see that flick? He gets some kind of brain tumor that makes his mind start firing on all eight cylinders while the rest of the world is trudging along with fouled spark plugs.”
“Ha. Yeah, I saw that movie. Pretty cool flick. But no, I just like to think about the larger picture sometimes. In all seriousness though, this whole crisis we’re going through started from a story that went viral. Long before it got dangerous, there was plenty of evidence to suggest it was bogus, but social media couldn’t let it go. The collective intelligence of the story consumed social media, and before long it got a life of its own. Then the dark side saw an opportunity. Before long, if you were suspicious or the least bit critical of what was considered accepted science, you were labeled as a moon bat. And now that there is ample evidence – proof even – that the whole thing was a sham, those invested in the original movement won’t back down. But this opposing force of the universe has managed to start its own movement and it’s growing too. Finally, people with common sense are starting to come around. Those who’ve recognized this thing for what it really is are finally getting a voice and fighting back. But for some reason, it’s not catching on as big as the dog killer movement. We can only hope the opposing media swarms finally meet in battle and the dark side falls. Who knows how this will turn out, but once these movements catch on, there will be no one in control.”
“Only you could turn a Facebook post into a Star Wars episode, Steven.”
“It’s really not that crazy, Gary. I’m talking about God and the devil. Put it in those terms and everyone understands it, but they reject it because God and particularly Christianity is considered the realm of idiots. Unfortunately, these days you have to talk about it in terms of the interconnected universe and mystical forces to get most people to buy into it. They’ll gulp that stuff up like a kitty at a bowl of milk. They call it Karma, which to me is nothing more than God acting on our behalf to right some wrongs.”
“I hate it when you do that. You know why? Because all that makes sense to me now, which makes me just as weird as you. God help me.”