Research shows social media drives news

Abby Welsh and Abby Welsh

Erika Avers uses her Twitter account to find things out, but not by following others.

“All of the people I follow are my friends and they just retweet things, so that is where I find out stuff and then I’m able to retweet it,” said Avers, a senior at the University.

Avers isn’t the only one who does this. A recent study done by communication professor Laura Lengel and a few other colleagues show that this occurs more often than not.

The study focuses on a particular event that happened in December about a communications director who tweeted an inappropriate racist joke, which went viral instantly. But the research still proves this retweeting phenomenon has become a popular way of receiving information when it goes viral.

Since social media has evolved during the years, it has become a way for people to find out information quicker. So fast that popular sayings, popular culture trends or celebrity news will blow up social media, such as Twitter, before media outlets can report on it, Lengel said.

“As soon as something hits Twitter, no matter what, people will instantly retweet it like wild fire, which [sometimes] makes news bigger than it has to be,” she said.

Avers retweeted multiple things that received more than 100,000 retweets. She retweeted the photo Ellen DeGeneres tweeted at the Oscars with other famous actors that ended up shutting down Twitter for the first time ever.

“I can now say I was a part of history,” Avers said. “It was crazy how fast it trended. I wouldn’t even have had to been watching the Oscars to figure out what was going on because my whole Twitter feed was talking about it.”

This is something that Alberto Gonzalez, chair of the University communications department and professor, said is taking over, making it harder for people to defer what is real and what isn’t.

“People will believe whatever they want when they first see it on social media, especially if it is trending, which can make it more difficult to detect what is true and what isn’t,” said Gonzalez, who was one of the researchers with Lengel. “Social media will look completely different in five years, so I don’t think we need to worry too much about what’s happening now.”

Social media can also be used as an outlet for those who want to get the word out about something they may be too afraid to deal with in person, Lengel said.

An example Lengel had was about a girl who responded to a teacher, who became a principal, who sexually assaulted her throughout her high school career using a YouTube video as her “way of getting it off her chest.” The video was tweeted, went viral within two hours after being posted and the principal ended up resigning that day, Lengel said.

“In this case, social media going viral was for the best. It also allowed others to step forward even if it wasn’t the traditional face-to-face confrontation,” she said.

Social media is only going to grow in popularity as the years go on, “especially when people are constantly spreading things that are either already news or will become news,” Lengel said.