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Emergent Norms in Information Sharing on Twitter

The final presenter in this AoIR 2013 session (and thus, the final presenter this year!) is Hazel Kwon, whose aim is to better understand the flows of communication on social media during protests. Her frame of research in this is Emergent Norm Theory, whose emphasis is on the rapid and transformative potential of word of mouth on collective behaviours. This is a process of diffusion for a collective identity.

Protests can be understood as collective behaviours. They may be prompted by the circulation of rumours, which are characterised by the informal and improvised circulation of situational information; gradually, key themes and issues are being identified and converted into key messages that define the protest action. They draw on a special type of crowd, the diffuse crowd. But existing theories largely consider such phenomena in the context of physically co-located crowds; translation to social media environments must necessarily develop somewhat different understandings.

Can we, then, distinguish different types of message flows on a temporal basis? Are there geographical patterns? Do different role-takers emerge? Hazel has used a dataset for the Egyptian #Jan25 protests to explore this, including some 4,400 tweets, and saw a gradual decline of improvisation in communicative exchanges, a shift toward verification of information, and eventually the solidification of key shared messages. This is also geographically dispersed - improvisation was more prominent for Egypt-based users; solidification for non-Arab users. Core actors emerged for each of the communicative functions.

But this is only a preliminary study - more research needs to be done on this. This study may provide a glimpse of the emergence of a collective conscious, however.