How Social Media influenced the Information Flow

“Medium is the Message” is a phrase created by Marshall McLuhan, meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. With the social media event, this quote makes sense more than ever.

Indeed we passed from a world where information was given mainly by tv, newspaper, and radio to a world where everyone, through a simple click, can share news, opinion, a picture, or a video and go viral in a few hours.

The Internet, especially for the youngest generation, is now the main source of information. Websites, blogs, tweets, and posts is where most people are now getting the pieces of information.

There are many consequences that this reality is bringing to our lives, both positive and negative.

Here we will analyze a few of them to appreciate the positive effect that Social Media has on us and also be aware of the possible risks we face.

The timing

If the traditional media require some preparation (that could take hours from the moment of the event to the moment of sharing of information), the Internet and social media completely delete that time frame.

Photo on Canva

Through our phones, we can see at any moment what is happening live on the opposite side of the world.

This speed has some main consequences:

  1. Allows us to share an immediate reaction;
  2. It makes us demand faster reactions from our governments or another subject;
  3. It doesn’t allow us time to process what is happening;
  4. Keep us attached to our screen, looking for what’s next.

Threshold of attention

According to Pew Research Center:

  1. Gen Z’s attention span is 8 seconds (the ones who were born from 1997 to 2012).
  2. Millennials(1981–1996) have an average attention span of 12 seconds.
  3. 71% of Gen Z watch more than three hours of online video daily.

These affected not only the news design but only the company’s strategies. The lower attention span has led companies to redefine their products so that they can stand out among the endless competition that exists today. Any product needs to gain attention in less than a second.

The interactions

Once upon a time, people received information through a source but weren’t able to give an immediate reaction to it. Nowadays, the news is not passive anymore. Indeed it is possible to like, dislike, reshare, and comment on every piece of information in a matter of seconds.

The consequences of the interactions are:

  1. We can read the opinion of millions of people we don’t know;
  2. We feel empowered to have our say, even if we have not analyzed the fact in question more in-depth;
  3. We can immediately see how many people like or dislike a particular topic (and this can lead our opinion);
  4. We can take sides for or against an argument by not putting our face on it (with a fake account).

The constant bombardment of all kinds of information

Scrolling through the home of our favorite social media, we go from photos and videos of war to pizza recipes, from funny memes to the latest crime story between blinks of an eye and another.

This constant shifting affects our sensitivity and perception as if everything were fiction, letting us feel powerless.

We follow what we like

Until a few decades ago, if we could only choose the type of radio to tune in to or the TV channel to follow, today we could choose from hundreds of millions of profiles and from dozens of social media to follow.

We have so many choices that we can’t follow everything!

And so, in most cases, we only follow the profiles and people we like.

There is nothing wrong with following profiles, pages or people we like. However, one consequence we must bear is that the constant exposure to only one type of narrative biases us on other types of narrative.

For example, if we started following the profile of Little Red Riding Hood, we would always see the wolf as the story’s villain.

We could only partially empathize with the wolf if we paused every now and then to analyze the wolf’s point of view (he will have to eat something every once in a while).

Polarization of ideas.

Are you a democrat or a republican?

Are you pro-vax or no-vax?

Are you pro-abortion or against it?

Photo on Canva

The main consequence of following only the kind of concept or type of people we like will make us more and more shortsighted and convinced of our opinion.

Life is not only black or white. So many facets of colour need to be considered and are as valuable as black and white.

In addition, we will tend to overestimate the number of like-minded people, as they are the only people we listen to.

We are constantly judging each other.

Have you ever heard of the Panopticon?

Photo on The Guardian

The Panopticon is a disciplinary concept brought to life in the form of a central observation tower placed within a circle of prison cells. A guard can see every cell and inmate from the tower, but the inmates can’t see into the tower. Prisoners will never know whether or not they are being watched. That’s why they most likely behave.

It was a manifestation of the belief that power should be visible and unverifiable.

Today, we are more likely to identify the panopticon effect in new technologies than in prison towers, and it’s affecting the way we share information on social media.

There are those who change their profile picture in favor of a rainbow or a yellow and blue image; there are those who post a photo of themself taking the vaccine shot; there are who are expressing their political deployment, and so on.

We know that we are constantly judged and observed and change our behavior accordingly.

Fake news

Although false news has always been spread throughout history, social media didn’t help the cause. It made it worst. Fake news can reduce the impact of real news by competing with it.

Multiple strategies for fighting fake news are currently being actively researched for various types of fake news. Politicians in certain autocratic and democratic countries have demanded effective self-regulation and legally-enforced regulation of social media and web search engines in varying forms.

The fact that our attention span is getting shorter, and we follow only the people that we trust and like is not helping others. Living ourselves more stuck in our little bubble.

Photo on Canva

Let’s face it…

These are just some of the consequences that disclosing information via social media has in our lives. There are many others.

But what can we do in practice to inform ourselves in a more aware way?

  1. Follow someone who doesn’t think as you do. It will allow you to reflect a little more on the information you receive and to have a more neutral opinion.
  2. Check the validity of what you are sharing or reading. Technologies could help us define what is fake news and what is not. Before sharing something, please do your research and ensure its validity.
  3. When you see fake news, don’t comment on it, and don’t share it (not even to show how false it is). If you do, you will only give it more attention.
  4. It is ok not to have an opinion on everything. If someone asks your opinion about a war, a protest, or something that you don’t know much about, it is ok to say: “I don’t know enough about this topic, so it is better if I don’t share my thoughts about this”.
  5. When you are not exceptionally knowledgeable on a topic, let those who know more talk.

This blog contribution was made by Eleonora Papini.

Eleonora has 3+ of experience in sustainable development and international cooperation with a background in Economic Development and International Cooperation with Finance.

Her background includes working as a Project Implementation Officer in a European project about urban sustainable development solutions to value the young and female entrepreneurship industry.

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