Digital platforms bring people together in a network and entangle them in a web of relationships. These platforms, for example social media or music streaming platforms, create a reciprocity and co-dependency between the self and the mass which is incomparable to public life in a village or moderate city. The individual is more quickly absorbed in swarm movements that behave coordinated yet unpredictably. This dynamic of online networks and collectives, i.e. ‘swarm culture’, has introduced new forms of collaboration, established new crowds and fundamentally changed the way ideas emerge and spread into society.
The dynamics of social networks allow ideas, products and communities to emerge and gain momentum across the globe in no-time and against low costs. As such, international coalitions could emerge around certain themes and/or issues, such as hackers or protest movements.
The power of these ‘viral movements’ will grow, but at the same time they will also become increasingly elusive, in particular due to the advent of freely available AI, with which almost anyone can manipulate and then distribute image and sound as they please. Societies are faced with the challenge of combating the excesses of this online dynamic without losing the positive aspects in the process.
Social networks create value by mobilizing people, making it possible to share goods or providing a breeding ground for ideas. This value can take the form of (harmless) entertainment, such as TikTok dances or ‘challenges’, but can also be socially or politically charged, such as the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movement, the QAnon conspiracy theory or the r/wallstreetbets investing community on Reddit, which recently caused the volatility of various stocks.
Digital platforms bring people together, introduce new forms of collaboration and thus contribute to the emergence and spread of new ideas. This dynamic will accelerate in the coming years, among other factors because of the advent of new interfaces and low threshold applications of artificial intelligence.
Swarm culture is reflected in the fluid and impulsive political movements of our day, but also points to meme culture, worldwide internet challenges and streaming hits. It changes the way we listen to music and identify or differentiate ourselves on social media. Due to swarm cultures, we buy the same jeans as someone in Japan and participate in universal empathy during local war conflicts.