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Interpersonal Influence in Viral Social Media: A Study of Refugee Stories on Virality

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ACM Press, New York


The expansion of social media use has enabled massive and rapid spreadability of content, which is often referred to as virality. Earlier studies have examined various aspects of virality such as the attributes of stories that become viral. In this on-going study we aim to make a better sense of the role of interpersonal influences in the spreadability of viral social media content. In this, we are inspired by Tarde's views on interpersonal processes and the notion of imitation. Considering the recent mass migrations, and numerous viral stories that have related to the plight of refugees, we chose a group of Syrian refugees consisting of men and women as the participants for this study. In twelve in-depth qualitative interviews we learned about the participants' views on viral stories as well as the way in which their interpersonal influences may play a role in their interaction with viral stories. The findings show that the views on migrant-related viral stories varied among the participants, but a common view seemed to be somewhat of scepticism about the agenda behind the spread of these stories. As part of the study, we identified four key interpersonal influences including community conversation, formative consciousness, community boundaries, and retrospective experiences. A main conclusion in the study is that although back-end technical issues, content attributes, emotions and so on may play a role in virality, still human agency, connections and interpersonal ties play a major role in shaping the process that leads to content spreadability, hence virality.


Mansour, Osama; Olson, Nasrine (2017): Interpersonal Influence in Viral Social Media: A Study of Refugee Stories on Virality. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Communities and Technologies. DOI: 10.1145/3083671.3083681. ACM Press, New York. ISBN: 978-1-4503-4854-6. pp. 183-192. Long Papers. Troyes, France. June 26-30, 2017