What’s Virality? Reviewing the Process of Going Viral

What is the going viral process and what constitutes virality?

Nahon, Karine, and Jeff Hemsley. Going Viral. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2013. Print.

“Virality is a social information flow process where many people simultaneously forward a specific information item, over a short period of time, within their social networks, and where the message spreads beyond their own [social] networks to different, often distant networks, resulting in a sharp acceleration in the number of people who are exposed to the message.” (Nahon, Hemsley, 2013, p. 16)

The book Going Viral by Karine Nahon and Jeff Hemsley is an in-depth look at how media goes viral. By media I mean a post or a tweet on Twitter or Facebook, or even a video on YouTube. The book begins by breaking down virality and discussing what is meant by virality. Nahon and Hemsley discuss how virality is a complex process with multiple components and in the book they provide a theoretical model to help the reader understand how virality works and the effects that it can have on individuals, collectives, and institutions, and how it feeds back into and effects social systems.

Viral events are  a mechanism of reproduction and transformation of social structures.” (Nahon, Hemsley, 2013, p. 104)

There are many different components in virality and at times understanding the different aspects was very confusing. Each chapter of Going Viral focused on a different step or set of steps in the process of something going viral.

Chapter one opens by giving some examples of viral videos and tweets, such as Susan Boyle when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” at her audition for Britain’s Got Talent, or how Keith Urbahn’s tweet about the assassination of Osama bin Laden went viral.

The book then moves on to talk about how gatekeepers, and strong or weak ties play a role in the process of something going viral. The book emphasizes the key conceptual elements of virality which is the human and social aspects of information sharing from one to another, the speed of spread, the reach in terms of the number of people exposed to the content, and the number in terms of the distance the information travels by bridging multiple networks.

One thing Nahon and Hemsley explains very well is that virality follows a sigmoid curve where at first “the growth within the network is relatively slow, but then it speeds up,” and then slows again.

One of the books strongest points is that it does a great job using diagrams and graphs to help emphasize the main points of virality. I also love how Going Viral uses  real life examples that help the reader relate to the going viral process.

My favorite example used is when they use PSY’s Gangnam Style to explain “virality’s role in reproduction and transformation of social structure.” I really liked this example because I love Korean culture and I can relate to how this video can be perceived in different ways depending on if you are an American who knows Korean culture, an American who doesn’t know Korean culture, or an actual Korean person who has lived in Korea. I feel like in many ways this song can be viewed as controversial or sexists and I liked how this example helped me better understand virality.

The weakest part of Going Viral is that there is a lot of repetition. After a while the book gets boring because of how often everything is repeated. I wish this book could have used more examples of virality instead of reusing the same one over and over again.

Overall though, Going Viral is a complex book, but it is well explained and once completed you completely understand the full process of virality.

Here are two more reviews of the book Going Viral


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