News / Edmonton

Spider-Mable proves power of positive stories on social media: researcher

The University of Alberta's Matty Flores examined 34,000 tweets to figure out why the six-year-old's story resonated so strongly.

Mable Tooke, a.k.a. Spider-Mable, teams up with Spider-Man to rescue Black Cat in Edmonton on Sept. 28, 2015.

Jason Franson / Canadian Press File

Mable Tooke, a.k.a. Spider-Mable, teams up with Spider-Man to rescue Black Cat in Edmonton on Sept. 28, 2015.

A young Edmonton superhero proved light can overcome darkness in the often-hostile world of social media.

University of Alberta researcher Matty Flores sourced out more than 34,000 tweets about Spider-Mable to examine why her story struck such a strong chord with people nearly two years ago, when she became the biggest trending topic in Canada.

“This one little girl, who’s six years old, had the power to transform an entire community and bring them all together on this day,” said Flores, who is earning his Master of Arts in communication and technology.

Mable Tooke was fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia – a form of bone marrow and blood cancer – when the Children’s Wish Foundation granted her wish of fighting crime like Spider-Man on Edmonton’s streets on Sept. 28, 2015.

City officials, residents and the Edmonton Oilers co-ordinated an elaborate plan that saw her rescue grown men and take down “villains” while media followed her exploits throughout the day and people kept their eyes glued to Twitter.

“I don’t know of any other stories that took off that fast,” Flores said.        

Before long, the story had been tweeted out by Premier Rachel Notley, soon-to-be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, filmmaker Kevin Smith, and Marvel Comics.

“It’s kind of neat to see this network of people all aligned to the same mission. And it kind of builds upon itself, I found.”

Social media has earned a reputation for bullying and negative comments, but in analyzing Spider-Mable tweets, Flores found less than one per cent of them were negative.

He said it’s important to keep in mind that social media is a neutral tool and can be used effectively for good when a story connects with people on an emotional level.

“It was a change in behaviour for people, bringing out the goodness and sparking interest,” Flores said.

“It kind of was a reminder of the superhero within themselves.”

Now eight years old, Tooke has finished her cancer treatments and still devotes her time to organizations like the Kids with Cancer Society, Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada.

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