A week ago a sleepy Dutch suburban town was shocked when thousands of “partygoers” invaded the streets, raiding shops and damaging private property. What had happened? A teenage girl had announced her Sweet Sixteenth on Facebook and forgot to make it an “invitation only” event. A friend of a friend decided it would be a good joke to invite all HIS (500) friends, urging them to invite more. Soon it became a ‘Project X’, after the movie in which a party totally spirals out of control.
Food for ethical philosophers.
Who is to blame in such a case? The girl? Facebook? I myself had a signing the day before, for which I made an “open” invitation on Facebook, and only seven people showed up…
It’s also food for behaviorial sociologists of course: what makes people abandon morality when the are in big groups? Is it peer pressure? Anonymity? The interesting thing about the internet is, though, that we’re all individuals sitting behind a screen, mostly in our own autonomous environment. So what made thousands of people, more or less rationally deliberating with themselves in front of their computer at home, think that it would be a good idea to harrass a 16-year old girl and an unsuspecting town…?
I’m not providing an answer here. I’m just bringing it up because I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of “virality”.
Yesterday, a Spanish society for Applied Philosophy, the Sociedad de Filosofía Aplicada (SOFIA), pointed my book ‘Philosophy, a Discovery in Comics’ out to their 33.000 followers on Facebook by directing them to my Facebook page for the book – and in less than 24 hours, I got more than 500 new “likes”! On my computer screen, I see people all over the Spanish speaking world nudging their friends about the book, sharing pictures from it, giving positive comments – it’s a really exciting phenomenon to witness when it’s so close and positive!
Which is good, because I’m a bit sick right now. While my work is apparently getting noticed all over the globe, I’m tucked away in my bed and in a snot-laden head.
(Most probably a virus.)