The Persistent Power of Social Media in Journalism and Public Opinion- Response to 2016 Article  “A Little Birdy Told Me” by Annie Dilworth

By: Sam Ross

Edited by: Ran Cheng

The rise of social media in recent decades has resulted in significant changes to the ways that we all live our lives. Admittedly, many of these changes have been improvements–we are all now seamlessly connected to one another. Regardless of distance, you can easily share the details of your life with anyone you’d like.  Similarly, access to information involving the different events happening around the world has become all the more simple. Social media is an invaluable resource for the global citizen.

However, this feature of connectedness is both positive and negative. In her 2016 article for Inquire Publication, Annie Dilworth highlighted one of the major issues stemming from the reliance on social media as a primary news source: the widespread dissemination of misinformation.

At the time of her writing the article, social media usage was at an all-time high. It’s funny to think that many of us never dreamed that social media would supersede that time when eight out of ten American internet users had a Facebook account. Back in 2016, leveraging social media for news reporting held particular significance, especially when considering the political climate. However, since the time of the article’s composition, various global developments have transpired, markedly intensifying the concerns articulated by Dilworth.Specific examples include the rise of TikTok and the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly increased social media usage.

I would like to use this opportunity to reflect on the article Dilworth wrote 8 years ago and compare how the climate surrounding social media use has evolved since then. I would like to look at what has changed since her original article, what has remained the same, and even how things have worsened as social media has become ubiquitous in today’s society.

Dilworth’s article centres around the phenomenon of online users’ biases being spread as facts. She cites the then very timely 2016 U.S. presidential election as a specific example of this. This phenomenon persists to present times, with ongoing global conflicts both prompting and enabling individuals to spread their biased opinions on social media—often presenting them as irrefutable truths. People may feel prompted to contribute to the conversation due to the prevalence of others posting their opinions, feeling enabled to spread biases relatively unchecked. 

Prominently, the war that is currently happening in the Middle East is hugely polarising. The sides are split so intensely and there does not seem to be a middle ground. That being said, the accessibility of social media has greatly increased people’s abilities to spread these differing opinions. It seems as if everyone, everywhere you swipe on these sites, whether it be trolls in comment sections or huge TikTok influencers, has taken their stance on an issue and made it very, very clear. 

Dilworth also brings to light a very interesting point that people are no longer spreading their opinions to solely their “neighbours or friends, but to dozens, if not hundreds of online friends or followers.” I think that this sentiment is all the more relevant in our world today, where there are hundreds of thousands more influences across all the different social media platforms. Anyone with access to a phone with a camera can be a so-called “influencer.” This is all the more harmful because just one person can spread all of their opinions and thoughts to their followers, whether they are backed by proof or not. People like this have fans, not just followers–an important distinction Fans are willing to believe and follow anything their favourite influencer says.

The stronghold these social media figures have on their followers can be attributed to what is referred to as the Influencer Effect. This phenomenon states that because we, as viewers, are constantly being influenced by the content we consume on social media, we are consequently very influenced by these social media creators to sway our decisions. This phenomenon is often associated with marketing and advertising, in that these influencers frequently get sponsored to sell us things. In some ways, influencers endorse their opinions on the internet in a similar way that they would endorse a product. 

I’d like to reflect on one more point from this article, which is Dilworth’s discussion on the challenges that journalists must confront with this rise in social media popularity–ore specifically,  how journalists receive their information with such biases. This is heavily problematic because the journalist is acting as a working part in the grand scheme of relaying misinformation online. Unfortunately, this issue has become much more severe in the past few years with an increase in social media usage. I can honestly say that I as a journalist have fallen victim to this phenomenon of trusting what a tweet, Instagram post, or even a Tik Tok has to say about certain pieces of news. 

My optimistic side is hoping for someone to respond to this article in another few years with better news: that we as a society have not only lowered our consumption of social media but have allowed ourselves to confront the issues that have come with it. Am I forward-thinking? Or naive…

 

Works Cited

Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Social_Media_Marketing_Strategy.jpg

Allcott, Hunt, and Matthew Gentzkow. “Social media and fake news in the 2016 election.” Journal of Economic Perspectives , vol. 31, no. 2, spring 2017, pp. 211–236, https://doi.org/10.3386/w23089.

Dilworth, Annie. “‘A Little Birdy Told Me’: The Pitfalls of Journalism in a Social Media World.” Inquire Publication, 26 Feb. 2016, inquirepublication.com/a-little-birdy-told-me-the-pitfalls-of-journalism-in-a-social-media-world/.

Dixon, Stacy Jo. “Topic: Social Media Use during Coronavirus (COVID-19) Worldwide.” Statista, 18 Dec. 2023, www.statista.com/topics/7863/social-media-use-during-coronavirus-covid-19-worldwide/.

Hermans, Ollie. “The Influencer Effect: Harnessing the Power of Social Media for Your Brand.” Medium, Medium, 9 Oct. 2023, medium.com/@ohermans1/the-influencer-effect-harnessing-the-power-of-social-media-for-your-brand-cd5435f370fe.

Greenwood, Shannon. “Social Media Update 2016.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 11 Nov. 2016, www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/.