The next area that colleagues and I have been looking at which shows one future of food activism is social media and the role of the internet. For a few years now Dan Keech and I have been looking at the social media use amongst those active in the food networks of Bristol. [You can see presentations here and papers here].
For this discussion, I want to discuss the network graph on display here. As a quick guide to what you are looking at, this is a graph created using some software (see polinode.com) based on a sample of tweets collected from a project in Bristol. In a mathematically perfect graph, all the nodes would connect to one another showing a unified group where everyone in it knows or communicates with everyone else. In this graph, we are looking at how the key account links to those around it, and quite clearly the only link between many of these accounts would appear to be the host account. Then there is a halo of nodes that don’t connect back to the host account; these are Twitter accounts that didn’t reply to the host.
Fortunately, during the inputting of this data, I read all of the Tweets for that period and had interviewed several of those involved so I can confirm the pattern of the network in the diagram. This diagram illustrates a Twitter account being used to search for contacts and attempting to generate publicity. If we were to add to this graph the size of the contacts, by the number of followers we would find that one account is ten times larger than any other in the network. Most of these accounts are of small local organisations and people, along with a constellation of celebrities in the halo area. In many ways, this network illustrates a search for affirmation and further publicity through Twitter that is only partially successful.
The graph also helps explain the face to face contacts, and many of the inner ring of the diagram are people and organisations who are in regular, sometimes daily contact with one another. They are using social media to acknowledge publicly and log their physical connections, and then, in turn, linking their network. This very loose network may not be useful for many things – such as building trust, or co-ordinating strenuous activities, but it is excellent at spreading news and information quickly. It represents the emergence in cyber-space of networks that are formed on the ground but allows for information, inspiration and example to spread very quickly.
If we are looking at how new practices and ideas can spread to meet the challenges that Organic 3.0 is meant to address, then this information is significant. It clearly demonstrates how around the project there is a core of people in dialogue with one another. The halo of non-replies also describes the ‘echo chamber’ of social media, when a broadly homogenous group communicates with each other, inadvertently excluding other voices.