Why Offline Borders Can’t be Breached by the Virtual World

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Why Offline Borders Can’t be Breached by the Virtual World

Free access to other cultures isn’t enough to overcome our differences.


People in more advanced cosmopolitan societies are more likely to embrace foreign cultures.

Can the borderless Web truly bring us closer together? Or are we still divided by cultural values that long predate today’s hyper-connected world? The success of Korean pop, most notably the global phenomenon of “Gangnam Style,” has shown that media content can transcend cultural differences. But is this unusual?

A team of Korean and US researchers, including Dr. Young Min Baek of Communication at Yonsei University, investigated openness to other cultures by analyzing the most-popular YouTube videos in 58 countries from November 2014 to April 2015. With 50 videos on each country’s daily list, the team considered over half a million unique videos.

As Dr Baek explains, “In any society, the shared beliefs that form our cultural values tend to influence how we behave. This includes which videos we watch and recommend online, so what is most popular on YouTube sheds light on the values of the audience.”

The team was interested in how many videos were classified as “popular” in more than one country. By identifying how many popular videos each country had in common with every other country in the study, the researchers were able to detect which countries seemed most open to foreign cultures.

They found that the countries’ most likely to be culturally open are those with established social hierarchies in which self-interest prevails, such as Canada and Great Britain.Such societies are characterized by an unequal distribution of power, and they typically lack rigid shared beliefs. By contrast, countries such as Kenya, in which the most popular videos differed little, tend to be less tolerant of diversity and difference.

Their results also suggest that greater tolerance of uncertainty and higher conformity to gender roles both increase a society’s openness to foreign cultures.

Dr Baek explains that worrying social trends were a key motivation for this research: “The rising tide of nationalism poses a growing threat to open borders and free trade. It’s ever more vital to understand the roots of this hostility and how it might be challenged. Our findings suggest that social media’s role in overcoming such divisions may be limited.”

The team also found that cultural values give greater insight into a country’s cultural openness than economic, linguistic, and technological considerations.

Updated in July 2018
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Title of original article: Cultural values and cross-cultural video consumption on YouTube
Journal: PloS ONE
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177865
Contact corresponding author: Young Min Baek ( ymbaek@yonsei.ac.kr )