Sociologist: social media fanned the flames of fire over pink slime

A sociologist explains how social media helped build a furor over “pink slime”:

Why the outrage around BPI? The Web petition? The TV coverage?

“That’s the wrong way to think about this,” said Matthew Salganik, an assistant professor of sociology at Princeton University. “Imagine a forest fire. No one thinks, ‘Which lightning strike did it?’” More telling are the scant rainfall and hot weather that set the stage for a blaze, he said.

The meat industry has been taking heat in books, films, and news stories for years. Add a catchy phrase, schoolchildren, and the prospect that some icky-sounding stuff is in Junior’s Whopper, and you have a PR disaster, he said.

“Social media is something that adds oxygen to the environment,” Salganik said. “It increases the chance that a small spark will turn into a big fire.”

This is an explanation that seems to be gaining steam when talking about how social media contributes to social change: social media can be a catalyst or an accelerant for existing situations and movements. Remember, not all social media movements, campaigns, or memes lead to large-scale change. However, given the right circumstances, social media can help draw a lot of attention to things like warlords in Central Africa or “pink slime” or dictators in the Middle East.

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