Adam Penenberg’s piece “Pass It On” in the November 2009 UK edition of Wired magazine looks at Facebook, HotorNot and eBay among others and attributes their success to the power of personal recommendation characterised as the “viral expansion loop”, which Penenberg says requires:
… incorporating virality into a product; in plain English, this means that a company grows because each new user begets more users. Just by using a product, they spread it.
Important to the effectiveness of such viral loops is a particular site’s “viral coefficient”. Penenberg used Netscape founder Marc Andreessen’s Ning social network, established in 2007 as an example: six months after start-up Ning had 60,000 “Ning nets”; by the end of 2009 they estimated there would be 50 million Ning members and 2.5 million Ning groups.
Penenberg says that Ning’s “viral coefficient” is exponential and phenomenal:
That pushes Ning’s “viral coefficient” — the number of additional members each person brings in — way above one. This is key, because if the virality coefficient is one, the start-up will grow, but at a linear rate, eventually topping out. Above one, it achieves huge growth. With Ning, Andreessen estimates the viral coefficient as a whopping 2: each person who signs up is worth, on average, two more people (compounded daily).
So what do viral expansion loops have to do with Australian hate groups?
Quite a lot it seems.
Late last night I was sent a link from a linguist friend who had taken umbrage at the content of the Facebook page “SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!!”
SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! (SEOPO) describes itself as a group:
For those who STRONGLY BELIEVE that the AUSTRALIAN way of life (culture, language, clothing, etc) should be embraced by all who set foot on her soil and choose to live here.
I’ve spent a few hours since then grazing around in the back-paddocks of SEOPO and related Facebook pages and internet sites that are connected to it. One thing that caught my eye was the [unnamed] moderator’s charting of SEOPO’s apparently spectacular success at attracting members — which as I write this stands at 49,599.
Here is how he reported it:
December 11, 2009 at 1:06pm — SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! Do the 33,676 Aussie’s in this group agree that this argument is “official”?? People that wish to live in Australia SPEAK ENGLISH???
November 24, 2009 at 9:29am — SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! 23,448 FANS keep it australia, SPEAK ENGLISH!!
September 13, 2009 at 6:27pm SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! is back online to find 119 fans!! Good si-t keep it up and SPEAK AUSTRALIAN!!
September 7, 2009 at 5:03pm SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! 94 Fans, good shit, keep it up WARNING: Fan Cheak is a VIRUS, a Dirty, Non-Australian Speaking VIRUS. All people who have used it or even is tagged in them, must remove any and all tags, and delete all pictures and anything else of the like. SPREAD THE WORD!!
September 5, 2009 at 3:14pm SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! 89 Proud Australians aye … Lets see if we can get into the 100s next week. SPREAD THE WORD!!!
August 25, 2009 at 11:06am SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! we are over 50 fans, good job people, keep up the good work, spread the word!!!!
August 20, 2009 at 4:52pm SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! up to 30 fans in 2 days, good to see. And don’t forget to spread the word, SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!!
August 18, 2009 at 11:12am SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! Welcome to our 1st 10 fans, spread the word, SPEAK ENGLISH!!!
August 17, 2009 at 10:54am SPEAK ENGLISH OR PISS OFF!!! is up and running!!
Here is how SEOPO’s membership growth looks on a chart:
If SEOPO was a business and this was a chart of your paying customers you would be over the moon — from start-up to 50,000 customers in four and a half months!
As Penenberg notes at the end of his Wired piece:
The internet means that anyone, anywhere, can tap into millions of memes spreading from screen to screen. This yields almost limitless level of virality. It’s a huge business opportunity.
And a boon, it seems, for SEOPO and their fellow-travellers. And while they may represent a small fraction of overall traffic, groups such as SEOPO must be good for businesses such as Facebook. Despite repeated calls for them to shut down the hate groups that appear to flourishing there, Facebook appears to have done little to stop them using its pages.
Joshua Hoey looked at this issue in an article in The Age in mid-November last year:
Social networking site Facebook has come under pressure to better regulate its content as racist and offensive groups continue to proliferate on the site. Facebook has a ban on “content that is hateful [and] threatening” and a spokeswoman for the site told brisbanetimes.com.au that there was no place for racism “or any form of hate speech” on Facebook. “We will remove anything of this nature that is reported to us,” she said. “Facebook is highly self-regulating, and users can and do report content that they find questionable or offensive.” But despite Facebook’s self-regulation, many offensive groups remain on the network.
It is pretty easy to see how “self-regulating” Facebook really is.
Over at the imaginatively named “Fuck Off We’re Full” (896 members) Facebook site there has been a recent spate of flaming posts from those opposed to the aims of the group and those behind it, as there has been at SEOPO and the related site of “Mate speak English, you’re in Australia now” (9882 members).
Chasing the links for the moderators and administrators of Fuck Off, We’re Full (Nicholas Hunter Folkes, David Johns, James Parkes and Darrin Hodges — credited as The Creator) leads you into a rather strange world of related Facebook pages, followers and internet sites.
Darrin Hodges is also the founder of The Infidel Diaries, which uses the same URL as Hodges used for his unsuccessful campaign for election to the Sutherland Shire Council, and where Hodges says he wants to:
… educate people about the reality of Islam. Islam is an ideology, a complete system that controls every aspect of a Muslim’s life. The problem isn’t necessarily with the individual Muslim, the problem lies within the core doctrines of Islam itself.
Another site to which Hodge links is to Protectionists — the home page of the Australian Protectionist Party (The APP), which is seeking registration as a political party to run in the next Federal election:
APP begins mega membership drive: Free membership offer! Campaign announced on Australia Day 2009: The Australian Protectionist Party is on the way to registering as a political party to contest the next federal election. At this stage, we have not reached the 500 members required to register. As a sign of our determination to become registered, APP has declared that free memberships will be offered to enable national registration. Time is running out for Australia and we do not have time to muck around. Our nation needs a federally registered political party to represent Australians, and this is what we intend to achieve.
The APP also has a You Tube site and claims to have branches in five Australian states and the ACT and claims some dubious links with the much earlier party of the same name:
The Protectionist Party was an Australian political party, formally organised from 1889 until 1909, with policies centred on protectionism. It argued that Australia needed protective tariffs to allow Australian industry to grow and provide employment. It had its greatest strength in Victoria and in the rural areas of New South Wales. Its most prominent leaders were Sir Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin, who were the first and second prime ministers of Australia.
There is more — much more — all you have to do is find a link and keep clicking.
But I digress.
Will, as Penenberg suggests, groups such as “Speak English or Piss Off”, “Fuck Off We’re Full” and “Mate speak English, you’re in Australia now” continue to grow like virtual weeds across the internet? Will they continue the same rate of exponential growth as they have enjoyed in the recent past?
This rapid growth may well be an accident of science or nature, may have been a total surprise to those behind these Facebook pages or may just be an incident of either the inherent virality of Facebook or of the content at these sites.
One thing that I can be reasonably certain of — this popularity doesn’t arise from any particularly intelligent approach to the marketing of their various and closely related “brands”.