Some Causal Processes of Video Virality

By Ema Rivas Leal

In Politics in Time, Pierson introduces a few mechanisms to think about the longevity of a causal process and its outcome. With this example of video virality, I hope to illustrate some of these mechanisms.

We will consider a video as viral if it hits around 5 million views within a few weeks. Taking video virality as the outcome, then, we should begin with the cause, the posting itself. Imagine a normal person posts a video. Hopefully, someone sees it, likes it and shares it. Resulting from this new share, someone else decides to share it, again increasing the potential viewers and sharers, and so on. In this way, we could think of a causal chain where the posting of the video (x) directly yields video virality (y) provided that x effectively initiates a sharing sequence. Since the odds are probably against the initial rounds of sharing, x and y may be temporally separated, making the causal chain difficult to establish. This implies that x initiating the sequence is not enough to guarantee outcome y.

Yet, if we consider the concept of threshold effects, the outcome could be ‘guaranteed’ sometimes. If we think that once a video has been shared a certain amount of times, the possibility of it being further shared a few million times in a short period of time becomes substantially heightened, then the process would involve a threshold. Furthermore, if it could be established that there was a critical moment when some famous person decided to share the post, immediately propelling the video close to or over the threshold, the process becomes analogous to Gladwell’s description of the tipping point. At the point where the famous person comes in, we could even identify some structural determination. Depending on this person’s level of popularity, their share could immediately make the sequence surpass the threshold, guaranteeing video virality. Finally, throughout the entire process positive feedback can be discerned, provided that sharing generates further sharing.

Some Interpretivist Considerations about Referendums

By Ema Rivas Leal

Referendums are a form of direct democracy, involving the people directly in the political process, usually proposing to them an outcome which they may accept or reject in the form of a single question. The outcomes usually involve core issues, including peace accords, territorial dispute settlements and independence declarations.

The practice of referendums assumes that there exists an answer to a question about an outcome among a population that can be extracted by posing a question to them. In this sense, we could say that carrying out a referendum shows a fundamentally positivist view of the world, making the assumption that an objective world exists and therefore an answer to a question about it can be observed and measured, then the world can be understood and controlled (KB).

However, if we consider some of the problems associated with referendum design, we can see how an interpretivist view of the world would discard referendums as a valid way of approximating knowledge about the world. Some of these include problems of clarity, where more than one issue is being discussed in terms of a single issue; the clear challenge that participation poses for the legitimacy of the referendum outcome; and the biased information that voters may use in forming an answer, especially when the existence of the referendum itself is political (LeDuc). If interpretivism proposes that “reality is multiple and variable” (Eridisingha), an interpretivist would argue that the outcome of a referendum is circumstantial and socially constructed, resulting from the framing of the question, its interpretation by the people that actually voted, and the relative salience of the perhaps infinite sources of information that each voter used to arrive to their answer.

In this way, to the extent that solutions for these issues of referendum design can make use of more qualitative approaches to data collection, we could say that a more interpretivist world view could be beneficial the development of referendums as a tool of direct democracy.