Becoming a media master: Decoding gossip, drama and digital influencers

(AP/Claire Savage)

As media shifted away from print and towards online publishing in the early 2000s, gossip and sensationalism spread faster than ever before. In this age of influencers, public opinion is now shaped more by people with large social media followings than it is shaped by traditional, credible sources. 

We now live in a world that is less inspired by personalities on TV, but more inspired by the source, or creator. The influencer that could be living next door is much more relatable than traditional celebrities due to immense fame, wealth and isolation.

To figure out why this happens, we must dig into the psychology of human nature. According to a study conducted by researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, gossip plays a pivotal role in society through three main forms: Spreading information, group security and control and social bonding. 

There is a stark contrast between socialization, the harmless spread of information and defamation, gas lighting or fear mongering, though all are forms of gossip. 

History often repeats itself as rumors have ruined lives since the dawn of civilization. In early America 330 years ago, a series of rumors caused by superstition led to the deaths of 20 people, consisting of men and young women. The Salem Witch Trials highlighted one of the first large-scale instances of conformity, panic and a mob mentality in the country, long before the United States were assembled.

During the Cold War, former senator Joseph McCarthy headed an anti-communist campaign in the U.S., labeling many Americans as communist sympathizers. In fact, J. Robert Oppenheimer’s government career ended when his security clearance was revoked. Many more government officials, screenwriters, directors and musicians’ reputations were damaged at the hands of McCarthy.

The echo chamber effect, amplifying like-minded individuals’ opinions on social media today, is the same echo chamber that influenced a nation scared of nuclear warfare and influenced a small community that teenage girls in Salem were witches. Although in 1692, it was less ‘cancel culture’ and more of a ‘kill culture’.

“When we feel good and are in groups, we are more likely to survive. Because of how we have evolved, there are things that motivate us more than accuracy,” said Dr. Dannagal Young, a political scientist and professor at the University of Delaware. “We’re motivated to feel like we comprehend the world, we’re motivated to feel that we have control over our world and we’re motivated to feel that we’re connected to our community.” 

Not only are people who have similar hobbies or values as the creators they watch more likely to have a beneficial experience, but they are more likely to purchase products from them, according to a 2022 collaborative study by the Department of International Business in Tunghai University, Taiwan and the School of Business in Putian University, China. 

This new media consumption forces advertisers to evolve their business model as well, effectively turning brands and products into their own personalities on social media platforms. 

More than one-third of the planet consumes YouTube videos and content creators know this, maximizing their reach with sensational titles, clickbait thumbnails and outrageous drama. 

Some of the most famous YouTube dramas in recent years include: beauty bloggers James Charles versus Tati, PewDiePie versus the giant Indian record label, T-Series, KSI versus Logan Paul, which led to a boxing match and iDubbbz versus LeafyIsHere. More recently, YouTuber Colleen Ballinger, known as ‘Miranda Sings’ was canceled for grooming a minor and attempted to apologize through a ukelele song, which caused further outrage. 

Whether it be anger, euphoria or shock, if you see something online that makes you feel strong emotions, take a step back and re-evaluate. 

Is it worth draining your energy to freak out over things that do not affect your life? Or arguing with someone, knowing you will not change their mind no matter how hard you try? How valuable is your energy? 

Unfortunately for the puritans, the Enlightenment had not started and many innocent people fell victim to mob rule. Fortunately for us, the Internet is currently a forum of open discussion where we may argue as much as we please, allowing the truth to grapple in our Enlightenment-based society. 

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