April 11, 2012
/ by Ellen Enrico
We’re not even a full quarter of the way into 2012, but already social media has played an enormous role in developing this year’s major news stories. Just last month, two distinct events have received global attention after viral discussion took place on social media platforms.
On March 5, the founder of the NPO Invisible Children uploaded a video titled “Kony 2012” to YouTube, which urges its viewers to spread awareness and encourage the U.S. government to take action against the African warlord Joseph Kony. Due to a clever marketing campaign run almost entirely through social media, the video has gained over 84 million views, and has started a movement with a truly remarkable scope.
At the same time, another news story that may have never come close to reaching the national news circuit has now become headline news thanks almost entirely to social media. The controversial shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has seen intense discussion on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. According to social media monitoring services, by March 23 more than 600,000 messages had been posted about the incident on Twitter alone.
These stories have received so much attention that President Obama spoke publicly about both. But what’s amazing about these stories isn’t just the sheer magnitude of their publicity, but the fact that social media has single-handedly pushed otherwise overlooked news into the forefront of our national consciousness. These events suggest that we may have reached an age where the masses dictate what news agencies report upon, and not the other way around.
While the forces behind these two stories are very different— one is an intentional campaign, while the other is borne out of organic outrage— they both breached the major news circuit. Keep in mind that the national news scene is a zero-sum world; whenever one story gets attention, another story is pushed to the back-burner. And while we can only wonder what stories were ignored because of the attention Kony 2012 and Trayvon Martin have been getting, the only thing that is certain is that the distinction between mainstream media and social media has become increasingly blurry, and will only continue to do so.
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