‘Three Degrees of Social Influence’

“Jason! Hey Jaaaayssssonnnn!”

Jason looked up from his laptop and smiled at the vision before him.  Nico; red skinny jeans, lime green polo shirt,virgin white Converse and a casually draped peach cardigan that was in danger of slipping off his fashionably slight shoulders.  Pulling out the chair opposite, Nico sat down with a flourish and crossed one leg over the other, his foot flipping in an attention-grabbing manner. He was being watched by the other students in the room and he knew it.

“Guess what!”

Jason shrugged his chunky and less fashionable shoulders, camouflaged by a uniform black tee-shirt and grey hoodie that enabled him to blend in with most backgrounds.  “What Nico?  What have you heard?”

“Well.” Nico leaned forward conspiratorially, “You know like, I was going to a party at Amelia’s last night?  So sick! Huge country farm, parents away, big brother in charge but like he is always SO out of it!”

Having been omitted from the invitation list, Jason had tried to ignore the buzz that had gone around college regarding the party. As it was a major talking point, this had not been easy and packing up his books to go home on Friday night, it had been particularly painful listening to the excited babble.  He slid out of the room as quietly as he could and walked home trying to convince himself that the party would be a total failure, that Amelia was a stuck-up phony and that he wouldn’t have gone anyway even if he had been invited.

“Anyhoo!  It was a DISASTER!” Nico squealed, his expressive legs crossing and recrossing themselves. “Somebody put the address on FaceAche! There were like literally HUNDREDS of people there!  Police, ambulance, fire brigade – did I tell you that someone torched the barn?  Amelia was like totes DEVASTATED! She’d been so careful just to keep the invitations to friends ONLY but one of her friends must have like posted the information to THEIR friends and then like  they posted the invitation to THEIR friends and ZILLIONS of strangers turned up!”

“Much damage done?” Jason said as he executed a couple of swift keystrokes on his laptop.

“Oh my days yes! The barn burnt down.  Rooms were trashed, all the booze went and like the caterers left once the food fight started.  Amelia’s brother was arrested for a public order offence – he was like TOTES drunk – and Amelia threw everyone out.  Some of the girls were supposed to be staying the night and they had like NOWHERE to go!”

Raising his eyebrows slightly, Jason stopped to take a sip of his Americano coffee from the utilitarian white mug.  The waitress brought over Nico’s beverage; creamy beige in a tall glass with a long spoon and accompanied by a flake and marshmallows.  It rejoiced in the name of Choco-Mocha-Vanilla-Latte-Macchiato; Nico had opted for extra whipped cream and a sprinkle of cocoa powder. It was a barrista’s work of art with a carefully executed heart-shape in the cream.  Other students rushed to the counter to order the same, but no one came back with a solid white mug.

“Is that your essay?  I’m going to have to ask for an extension.  I just don’t understand this three degrees of social  influence stuff at all.”

Smiling slowly, Jason saved his essay, emailed it to his tutor and pressed delete in his FaceAche settings. He looked pensively at his friend.

“How many FaceAche friends do you have Nico?”

“Oh, like hundreds I suppose.”

“So suppose you had some good news.  Such good news that you wanted to tell ALL your friends on FaceAche.  That’s one degree.  Then one of your friends decided to tell all of their friends, none  of whom actually know you personally. That’s two degrees. One of your friend’s friends thinks that the news is SO wonderful that she decides to tell all HER friends too.  Suddenly loads of people who you don’t know are aware of your good news.  It’s been established that good news spreads more quickly than bad.  Isn’t social media a wonderful thing?”

Nico’s gorgeous brow furrowed.  He opened his mouth to speak, looked over at the innocent face of his friend and tried to remember if he had actually told Jason where Amelia’s party was being held. He felt a little nauseous and pushed his coffee creation away.

Satisfied that the fake FaceAche profile he had created on Sunday morning had been well and truly deleted leaving no trace to himself, Jason closed down his laptop, drained the last of his Americano, and got to his feet.

“You coming Nico?  Class starts in five minutes.”

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