industrial and social media

Perhaps as revolutionary as the addition of mass communication to human communication is the 21st century phenomenon of social media, facilitated through different communication channels, called social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Tumblr. With the development of smartphones, reasonably priced mobile phone plans, and readily available wi-fi access, social media is now accessible to almost anybody. You don’t need costly printing presses or broadcast equipment to communicate with a mass audience via social media. In fact, all you really need is a personal electronic device that can access the Internet, an account with one of the many social networking sites, something interesting to say that has the potential to go viral, and mass communication may be only a few keystrokes away.

Mediated forms of communication, whether through mass media or social media, can

reach small or huge audiences, depending on the subject matter, relevance, and methods used for dissemination. A video posted on YouTube can go almost unnoticed, as most do, while others go viral.

Or consider the recent “Ice Bucket Challenge,” the challenge was fundraising campaign for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) initiated by a single individual on behalf of a friend whose husband had ALS and involved people posting videos of themselves getting a bucket of ice dumped on their heads, challenging someone else, donating money to the ALS association, and then posting the video on social media with the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge.

While this challenge was initiated by a single individual, it quickly went viral, and within one year over $100 million dollars was raised for the ALS Association by 2.5 million people who took the ice bucket challenge—an increase over the previous year of about 3,500%. Last year when the majority of Facebook users logged on to their account, most likely they would see at least one, but maybe more Ice Bucket Challenge videos, some of which may have even ended with a challenge to them to be the next person to have a bucket of ice dumped on their heads.

Media consumers must be discerning though when evaluating the truthfulness and accuracy of viral posts and videos on social media, since exaggerated claims, propaganda, gossip, and outright falsehoods are common. This is particularly true in response to crises—such as news reports involving crime—when a rush to disseminate news quickly devolves into the spread of gossip involving false or exaggerated attacks against individuals or companies involved in controversial situations. People’s careers can be destroyed when a negative post goes viral, and in some cases, lives may be put in jeopardy when damaging information is disseminated widely via social media and individuals referred to as “Internet trolls” resort to cyberbullying and death threats in response. Thus in order to be a good consumer of mass communication through social media, one should take the time to evaluate the accuracy of the information, as well as the impact of clicking the “share” or “retweet” button.

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