By Trent MacDonald

Social media is a spontaneous order. Or, rather, various social orders cultivated on social media platforms—patterns of interaction, virtual communities, co-creation and user-generated content—constitute their own spontaneous orders. Social media spontaneous orders emerge and evolve in an orderly yet unplanned way due to shared rules of procedure, simplified feedback mechanisms, freedom of entry and exit, and equality of status among participants[1]. Most studies of spontaneous orders have focused on markets[2][3], science[4], and democracy[5][6]. Recent extensions have explored the spontaneous order of religion[7], art[8], innovation[9], and cities[10][11]; but social media life in an open society—the social media cosmos—is also such an order.

Like other cosmos, social media spontaneous orders are complex discovery procedures that coordinate the distributed knowledge of participants. Yet social media spontaneous orders are distinct from others because they privileges a different systemic resource and rely on unique feedback mechanisms. Social media participants do not use profits (e.g. markets) or priority of discovery (e.g. science) or votes (e.g. democracy) to assess performance; nor do they use price signals to coordinate plans and activities. The systemic resource of social media is attention: “focused mental engagement on a particular item of information”[12]. Participants look to connectivity/interactivity ratios and many social media analytics as coordinative feedback mechanisms.


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Trent MacDonald



Published: 14 Mar, 2015

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