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Is Social Media Responsible For Fanning the Fire of Sensationalism?

​For anyone who has gone to a small high school, lives in a closely knit community, or works in an office that thrives on gossip, its not hard to imagine how a piece of juicy news can turn into a real gusher. When news becomes sensational it spreads like wildfire and warps the reality of the incident with everyone who comes in contact with it. One aspect might be exaggerated while another could be completely forgotten. If social media has shrunk the world into a small community does it play a part in encouraging sensational news?

For anyone who has gone to a small high school, lives in a closely knit community, or works in an office that thrives on gossip, its not hard to imagine how a piece of juicy news can turn into a real gusher. When news becomes sensational it spreads like wildfire and warps the reality of the incident with everyone who comes in contact with it. One aspect might be exaggerated while another could be completely forgotten. If social media has shrunk the world into a small community does it play a part in encouraging sensational news?

First and foremost social media is a tool. Inherently, social media has no predisposition for being good or bad, helpful or harmful. Instead, people that have access to social media use the tool as a means to amplify a quality that already exists. The Steubenville rape incident is one example of how two individuals who committed sexual assault and made poor use of social media sparked the flames of a sensational firestorm.

Through the use of social media, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond included more people in their crime than would have otherwise been possible. Without assuming motive, it is probably safe to say that the crime they committed would have taken place either way. Social media simply provided an avenue to magnify the victim’s humility and allow untold numbers the ability to feed the fire by providing their own commentary.

The act, of course, was distasteful and unjustifiable. Some may claim that social media encourages feelings of narcissism and a sense of entitlement. Would the incident have been any less humiliating or damaging to the victim if fewer people were involved? That is subject to debate but remember social media is a tool. Those that partook in the sensationalism could have just as easily taken social media and ran in the other direction.

Users of social media should understand that their actions can cause a butterfly effect. If social media is used to exploit a few controversial or taboo acts exposed to a large pool of people, a fierce backlash is very possible. By the same token, viral videos and movements have been the source of great collaboration and unity. Is social media responsible for the sensationalism or is it the user of the tool?

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