The Butterfly Effect on News

Lately, many big stories have come and gone in the news.  Many of these stories began in social media before being magnified through mainstream media. It got me wondering… while there are more Tweets and posts than anyone could ever read, for some reason certain stories take off in a big way and are heard around the world.

What makes a story go viral? What made Kony 2012 the most viral video every (over 100 millions views)? How come, weeks after the shooting of an unarmed young man in Florida, the story has become a national debate?

We heard about stories ranging from 22-year-old Molly Katchpole, who started a petition to get Bank of America to retract new fees (but had no idea it would actually work!), to the Occupy Movement (which also seemed surprised by its widespread coverage).

Perhaps the answer lies in the “butterfly effect” — defined as: “(physics) In a chaotic system, the ability of miniscule changes in initial conditions (such as the flap of a butterfly’s wings) to have far-reaching, large-scale effects on the development of the system”.

Could this explain the seemingly random proliferation of certain stories, while other similar or equally deserving stories are ignored? For every story that breaks through, there are easily thousands more that did not. Why? And, more importantly, can we learn to tune into the “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”?

The butterfly effect “refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado…. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different.”

Harness the power of the butterfly, and you reboot the media.

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Categories: News, Online

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