Read the three statuses below and think of three different scenarios where the original status listed could be interpreted to mean something different.
For example, if the status update was, “Goodbye, cruel world!” it could be a reach out for help, a reference to pop culture (Pink Floyd album or several other songs), or someone being overly dramatic and silly. What it meant to the original poster depends on their situation and personality, and what it means to the reader varies as well. Be sure to consider biases and different social groups as you write.
For each of the statuses below, discuss each interpretation of the status. Your paper should be 2-3 pages in length.
- Status 1: They’re always trying to keep me down!
- Status 2: A very good day. I didn’t have to see any of the sickly, disgusting mites that live around here.
- Status 3: I love my life!
Overview of Social Media Theories and Influences:
Cultivation theory looks at how we are subtly influenced over the course of time. For example, think about language. In your house, certain words might have been forbidden and you would be startled to hear them. But as you got older, you might hear them more and more at school, on the bus, at work, with your friends, etc. Suddenly, it wasn’t such a big deal. You may have even found those words slipping out of your own mouth!
For social media, cultivation theory could be applied to look at political views, religious views, shopping habits, and more. But let’s look at something a little different – biases. Our social media groups tend to reflect aspects of ourselves. Many of us have friends with views that we don’t wholeheartedly agree with. What if we read something from them, time-after-time, which was a little uncomfortable, like all of those xyz people are stupid?
If you read something to that effect over and over again, do you think it would affect how you think about xyz people? Even if you just say something in passing conversation, like “I’ve heard that xyz people are stupid.” What you read, especially over and over again, affects you and your beliefs.
Social learning theory describes the way we learn behaviors. We get encouragement and motivation to repeat a behavior when we are validated for it. Social learning theory can help us understand things like attraction. Pleasant attributes, like humor, make a person more attractive to us. When a date (significant other/spouse) says something funny, and we laugh, both sides of the interaction get pleasure out of it. Humor is likely to be something we both appreciate and share more of in the future.
To take this idea into the social media realm, let’s look at Facebook statuses. If a person posts something funny (pleasant, cute, etc.), people can give them a little “zing” of pleasure by “liking” their status. That “like” is the encouragement or motivation to repeat the behavior, or to post more. A comment (either positive or negative) is more interaction. Even something as simple as a “poke” could be interpreted as pleasant attention as well – someone is thinking of me!
If a person was posting and it hung out there in dead space with no interaction, they might be less likely to post something similar again. The person posting might find themselves waiting to update their status until they know more people are at their Facebook pages. People are remarkably good at figuring out the best and worst times to post.
Our social media sites and usage are shaped by us – but also by our audience! You know how concerned parents are about who their kids are hanging out with? It’s just as important online. Who we socialize with (and how we socialize with them) is important, both online and in-person, as we all mutually influence each other.
Agenda setting theory examines how social media can direct us where to focus our attention, but not what to think. In other words, if we see enough coverage of a topic, we will think it is an important topic and begin to think and research more about it. In this way, social media can drive what we are reading and viewing. It filters and shapes media, leading us to decide that what is often discussed is actually important – and it may not be something as important as another topic. This is where you may hear about “spinning” a story. If something else becomes a focus, that may become the important thing that everyone is talking about (leading to whatever needed to be spun being pushed to the side or perhaps even forgotten.)
Politics are a great example of agenda setting theory. What is the big issue people are talking about now? With our agenda set by social media, we are free to go off and learn more about it, but it might not be something of major importance. However, people tend to think about things they see or hear about and other (important) topics may be ignored. This is one way social media influences our learning.
An example is someone behaving poorly – say a politician who just raged on about bad driving gets pulled over for speeding. If it’s a slower news day, this may be big news. People would be likely to hear about it and maybe click on related links. If something else major came up (like someone else behaving even worse!), we might be less likely to direct our attention that way if others did the same.
Most researchers ask, “What does media do to people?” Instead, uses and gratification theory really turns around the question and asks, “What do people do to media?”
This theory says that we are active users of media, and that we determine what we want to read, watch, and/or consume social media content. So, we can play games online with friends to escape, or watch a YouTube video on something and then comment, or research our upcoming vacation using other people’s reviews and comments. Blogs represent a pervasive form of leisure activity and informational learning as well. What do you think you can tell about someone by looking at what blogs they read?
To take Uses and Gratification theory a bit farther, we can assume that any effects from consuming the media we choose are intended affects – or at least could be anticipated if we considered. For example, choosing to read a somewhat controversial blog would likely result in a lot of consideration and discussion of the topics from the blog. It might result in changing attitudes and learning new things as well.
Let’s think about this theory using something most (if not all) of us have: our cell phones. We use our cell phones to stay in touch with people, to call for help when needed, play a simple game, maybe even to make a fashion or technology statement. But add in a smart phone (which again, many of us have) and we have instant access to social media. People are taking more pictures, using different apps, and connecting in different ways – especially using social media tools. How often do we see people waiting in line, sitting on public transportation, or walking down the street while typing away on their phones?
With the proliferation of smart phones and other gadgets, we have instant and (nearly) constant connection with our friends and connections on social media. We can use our phone to seek many different gratifications: escape into a game, show off a beautiful project, seek approval of an outfit, research a political position, and more.
Schemas are ways we organize information to help us better understand it. Schemas are especially important as we talk about social media and biases.
A bias is a tendency or way of looking at feelings, ideas, and opinions. We rarely look at something unbiased, we are influenced by our experiences, attitudes, the kind of day we’ve been having, our friends, and even our social media. When you hear about someone having a bias, it usually refers to a slightly skewed way of thinking (not necessarily wrong), but influenced by what the person knows.
As we’re organizing information using schemas, our biases have a way of working into that process. For example, if you were thinking about people you would never want to hire; perhaps those “stupid xyz people” from our earlier example. You might not have heard of them before, or met anyone from that group, but if everything you have read or seen on social media leads you to believe they are “stupid,” then you are already biased.
Of course, we all have biases. The purpose here is to be aware of the lens through which these things come our way. We want to be open to experiencing another viewpoint, make our own decisions, and recognize biases.