News spreads much faster today than it did 20 years ago, because of the invention and mass adaption by society of the internet. Before we had the internet, people relied on news in print or on TV, which didn’t spread nearly as fast. With the internet, we can receive news almost instantaneously as it happens.
Broadcasting on the internet allows for a wide audience, and sometimes things go viral and become well-known because so many people see it. There are tons of viral sensations out there, I’m sure you’ve seen at least a few of them. Some well-known examples include the YouTube video “Charlie Bit my Finger,” “Teach me how to Bucky,”and “United Breaks Guitars.”
What makes content go viral on the internet? A few studies have researched this topic, they came to the following conclusions:
- The content must be emotionally salient
- The content must have a point of connection to the person who passes it on
- The content usually has an element of surprise
Some things go viral unintentionally, while others were well thought out and intended to go viral. For example, the video “Charlie Bit my Finger” was not intended to go viral, but it did because it was emotionally salient, had a point of connection, and an element of surprise. “Teach me how to Bucky” and “United Breaks Guitars” however were both made to go viral. In fact, “United Breaks Guitars” needed to go viral to get what the man who created it needed from it. The video was only made because the man took a flight with United Airlines where they broke his $3,500 Taylor guitar. The man contacted United Airlines many times, only for them to repeatedly refuse to compensate him financially. The man decided the only way to resolve the problem was to create a song about it in hopes that it goes viral and brings a lot of bad publicity to United Airlines. His video was a success, so much so that it was estimated to have cost United Airlines $180 million due to the negative publicity it drew. United airlines then eventually gave the man financial compensation, but the damage from his viral video was already done.
Viral sensations and popular news stories are popular places for internet ‘trolls’ to comment inappropriate or irrelevant things, distracting the attention and angering or annoying other people viewing the original post. To prevent this, many news sources such as CNN are turning off the comments sections under news articles. Taking comments away presents another issue though; it takes away legitimate discussion and thoughtful responses to the articles. Because of this, alternatives are being used more often today. Many sources have moved the discussions to social media like Facebook and Twitter. Others have allowed a comments section on select articles that are strictly moderated, preventing trolls and encouraging meaningful discussion.
It’s interesting to note that peoples’ perceptions of the quality of an article is affected by the comments under it, which is why it is important that trolls are moderated. In a study proving this, half of the participants read an article with no comments at the bottom, and the other half read an article with the comments on the bottom included. The participants given the article with comments were never told to read the comments, just the article. Afterwards, all participants were given a survey asking all of the same questions. Those who read the article with the comments included rated the article quality as lower, showing not only that the participants read the comments, but also that they were influenced by them. If you think about it, it makes sense. If you read an article and then see 1,000 comments that have the opposite opinion, it’s understandable that you would reassess yours. For more information on this study, read the article “How Comments Shape Perceptions of Sites’ Quality – and Affect Traffic.”
Trolls aren’t the only ones posting things they shouldn’t be on the internet, though. In fact, tons of people are guilty of it. Anything you post online can be easily accessed by anyone, so it’s important to be careful about what you post. If you’re not, it could hurt your chances of getting a job later on; many employers have been known to browse applicant’s Facebook profiles before deciding to hire them. For some good guidelines on what to post and what not to post, check out THIS infographic. You don’t want to end up like the football recruit from Penn State who was dropped because of his poor presence on the internet.
Though it may seem like everyone is online, as reported in this article by the Pew Research Center, around 50% of people read their news exclusively in print. Print newspaper readers tend to be news enthusiasts, and are also more likely to watch local TV news. They also are less likely to have gone to college, are less likely to be highly engaged with local civic and political activities, and tend to be a bit older.
I definitely fit the profile of someone who obtains a majority of their news online, but just to be sure I recorded all of the news I heard over a 3 day period, along with the source of the news. Out of the 6 pieces of news I recorded, only one of them was obtained from an offline source. It’s crazy to think how much the internet is influencing the news that I hear.