Now that I’ve gotten that song stuck in your head for eternity…
We’ve been talking about network theory for the past few weeks in class, so when I saw this article by Brian Carlson on the Public Diplomacy Council’s website I was absolutely fascinated. Apparently there is no longer “six degrees of separation” if you are a user of Facebook! Based on an analysis of 721 million users with 69 billion friendship links, Facebook users are an average of only 4.74 degrees away from any other user. Kind of mind-blowing, no?
So what does this all mean? Brian Carlson and Ali Fischer believe that this has implications for Public Diplomacy, and I am inclined to agree. I think back to the PD conference we attended at GW a couple weeks ago (“The Last Three Feet”), where Jean Manes presented about an exchange program for teenagers in Brazil. Though the program is small, the organizers thought strategically and decided to pick one student from each province to participate. Though the program is small, they assumed that each participant would have on average 600 Facebook friends. The hope is that if the exchange student has a positive experience and writes about it on Facebook, it will have a secondary positive effect on the user’s friends. Picking people from different areas of the country makes it less likely that the friend networks will overlap, thus ensuring maximum impact. If the program works as planned, a small exchange program can have a big effect due to amplification through Facebook!
Of course, the 4.74 degrees of separation only applies to Facebook users, bringing up the question of digital divide. According to this data, Facebook users are concentrated in North America, Europe, Latin America, and Australia/Oceania. What about people in Asia, Africa and the Middle East? Is it that they do not have access to the internet, or are they instead using alternative social networks? If they do, perhaps there are even less than 4.74 degrees of separation there. Is it really necessary that everyone joins Facebook? Questions abound!
P.S. Additional reading about social media in Brazil!