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Theory, Culture & Society | 05.04.15

Social Media, Financial Algorithms and the Hack Crash

Tero Karppi, Kate Crawford

‘@AP: Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured’. So read a tweet sent from a hacked Associated Press Twitter account @AP, which affected financial markets, wiping out $136.5 billion of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s value. While the speed of the Associated Press hack crash event and the proprietary nature of the algorithms involved make it difficult to make causal claims about the relationship between social media and trading algorithms, we argue that it helps us to critically examine the volatile connections between social media, financial markets, and third parties offering human and algorithmic analysis. By analyzing the commentaries of this event, we highlight two particular currents: one formed by computational processes that mine and analyze Twitter data, and the other being financial algorithms that make automated trades and steer the stock market. We build on sociology of finance together with media theory and focus on the work of Christian Marazzi, Gabriel Tarde and Tony Sampson to analyze the relationship between social media and financial markets. We argue that Twitter and social media are becoming more powerful forces, not just because they connect people or generate new modes of participation, but because they are connecting human communicative spaces to automated computational spaces in ways that are affectively contagious and highly volatile.

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