Certain airplane accidents brought to the memory of users previous incidents sometimes unrelated.

They find the fuselage of the Russian military plane crashed in the Black Sea

An inexhaustible source of information to which Internet users turn to answer their questions, now the Wikipedia also contributes to understanding how collective memory works, that is, the conglomerate of memories that society treasures as a whole.

Thanks to the reading data of this encyclopedia online, a team of researchers has been able to delve into the way in which certain events sparked a memory of others Past, because netizens turned to Wikipedia to find information about old incidents.

Specifically, the team of researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute, the Niels Bohr Institute and the Alan Turing Institute used the statistics of the entries on plane accidents, thus checking what unfortunate episodes went through the minds of users after new incidents occurred. And, in the same way, what other events had not come to his memory.

“Although the collective memory, or the socially generated perception of an event, has been studied in the past using methods such as surveys, the internet offers us a great record unexplored of this phenomenon ”, emphasize the researchers. “Wikipedia is an ideal space to study collective memory because the article visit statistics They are a reflection of the activity patterns of internet users, including Google searches ”.

The researchers analyzed a total of 1,500 items from English Wikipedia on plane crashes and other incidents like the aircraft hijacking. The most recent ones, those that occurred between 2008 and 2016, were categorized as the fountain memories, that is, as events that could have caused previous events to be recalled.

On the other hand, accidents and kidnappings prior to 2008 they were objectives, that is to say, the episodes that could have been evoked by later events. Thus, by consulting the statistics of readings in the days after the source accidents, they were able to establish which memories the users experienced or, what is the same, which accidents from the past they recalled.

An example is the accident of Germanwings. In March 2015, flight 9525 of the German company fell in the French Alps due to an intentional maneuver by the copilot that crashed the aircraft. At that time, and in the days after, the Wikipedia entry referring to a plane crash that occurred more than a decade earlier began to receive an unusual stream of visits. The entry was the one corresponding to the fatal incident that suffered a flight of American Airlines en 2001, just a couple of months after the fateful 9/11.

In that case, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in the area of Queens barely a minute after taking off, killing its 260 occupants and 5 more people on the ground. Although the reason was a pilot error When reacting to violent turbulence – they had also trained him to act in this way – the Germanwings accident brought to the memory of many users the American event, which was especially consulted in the great encyclopedia onlinewithout there being any hyperlink linking them.

The place doesn’t matter

According to the results, published in the open access journal Sciences Advances, the number of deaths, the date of the event – the memory of an incident only seemed to prevail for 45 years and then fell dramatically – and the number of previous visits to the articles influenced the revisitation of the entries when similar incidents occurred.

However, other factors that might have seemed important at first, such as the location of the airline, they were not reflected in the data. “In general, we have not seen that geographic similarity has had any significant impact on the recollection of plane crashes, even when the level of attention given to individual events is usually driven by location,” the authors state.

The researchers also highlight that old items revisited by a new accident received a 142% more visits than those referring to the triggering event itself. They find the explanation in the memory processes that cause a particularly memorable episode to be triggered by a less relevant current event.

Your model is the first to try explain how memory works in the face of tragedies like plane crashes. Now, according to the researchers, the theoretical framework and its mathematical formulations could be used to understand collective digital memory in broader contexts and understand, even better, what it is that we remember when unpleasant events occur. And, perhaps as important or more, what things do we forget.