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The power of social media

| Monday, February 8, 2021

It should not be news to anyone that social media has a lot of influence in today’s world. Every aspect of life now exists online and “in real life.” Year after year, communication and organization between people becomes easier, faster and more powerful. But just how impactful is social media’s connection of people? Today I will highlight three developments across social, economic and political issues that have offered dramatic examples of the power of social media.

Social media and music charts

The social media app TikTok has become extremely popular in recent years. This app prioritizes the use of songs as part of the user’s content creating process. This has catapulted songs that become viral video trends into Billboard, Spotify and Apple Music charting hits. Major examples of TikTok’s music influence include unsigned artist Arizona Zervas rising to number one on the Spotify U.S. Top 50 after millions of TikTok videos using the song “ROXANNE.” TikTok also helped boost Lil Nas X’s breakout “Old Town Road” to eventually become 14-times platinum, the most platinum on a single in RIAA history.

“TikTok helped me change my life. … TikTok brought my song to several different audiences at once,” the artist said.

While these last two examples are two of the biggest in recent years, even in 2021 TikTok trending sounds have made transitions in large numbers to music streaming services, with songs such as “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo, “Streets” by Doja Cat, “Whoopty” by CJ, “Mood” by 24kGoldn and “WITHOUT YOU” by The Kid Laroi currently occupying the top 10 spots on the Spotify U.S. charts. And it’s not just newer artists — established artists have been able to reach record heights, such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” achieving top 10 status more than four decades after its initial release. This was largely due to the song “Dreams” becoming part of one of the most viral videos, where one user named DoggFace is seen coasting on a skateboard drinking juice with the song playing. The way TikTok utilizes music as a primary component paired with the fact that many of the videos are well less than a minute long is important. It creates enough exposure for its users to want to listen to a song but also makes music streaming apps the only way to check out the full song.

Social media has a lot of power in the organized listening behavior of engaged users, with music artists, labels and agencies taking notice and noticeably investing in creating, releasing and marketing music that can spread like wildfire on a platform like TikTok. Social platforms are a primary way people make transfers of information in this day and age, and it should come as little surprise the viral nature of social media posts is lending itself more and more to other related industries. It will be interesting to continue to monitor how general social media behavior and trends impact movies, video games and other forms of entertainment going forward, as people spend more time interacting on social platforms where they share information and participate in organized trends.

Social media and finance

In recent weeks, platforms such as Reddit and Twitter have altered and disrupted stock and cryptocurrency prices. One forum, or subreddit, called r/wallstreetbets organized everyday retail traders in a way where their collective action has pushed up prices on stocks such as GameStop and AMC Entertainment. This group has also been pinned as having been a part of the reinvigoration of individual day trading, reshaping the options market and increasing trading volume. Without going super in-depth, what this trend points to is the larger impact of how social media can empower individuals to make a significant impact, especially when actions become coordinated or inspired on a platform. Everyday investors using services such as Robinhood are competing with hedge funds and Wall Street investors in shifting market momentum thanks to this online assembly of people’s behaviors.

Another example has been a united effort to take the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, which began as a joke, “to the moon.” People on Twitter pushed Dogecoin to new heights, including people with major platforms spreading the effort to invest in the currency including Elon Musk, Snoop Dogg and others. Dogecoin, as of Sunday, is up almost 700% this month alone, and with no real reason except coordinated and popular buying trends that exist solely due to social platforms and their users.

Social media and the Capitol invasion

The power of social media in organizing human behavior is not all light-hearted music trends or interesting financial developments. The consequences of social media are real, and platforms can be used to cause real harm to people. An example of the abuse of social platforms for organizing people’s actions occurred this January, with right-wing extremism spilling from online sources into the streets of Washington D.C. People from across the country infiltrated the U.S. Capitol, causing destruction and disrupting an important session of Congress. Social media platforms have become a place where some people are spreading disinformation and hate, as well as a tool for far-right organizing. Online communication enables people to do a lot more like an organized body, but this can be dangerous if used for violence. And while I would not be supportive of limiting the organizational abilities of people, monitoring public conversation and developments seems important to keep this from happening again, or at least to be prepared when it does.

The main takeaway here is that social media hasn’t been just a place to share meaningless information for a while now. Human interaction, organization and behavior taking place on these platforms have real-world importance and implications. It is time government officials and big tech companies truly understand this.

Justice Mory is majoring in business analytics and is part of the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He is from Southern California and now lives in Duncan Hall. His main goal is to keep learning and to continue to become more informed. He can be reached at [email protected] or @JmoryND on Twitter to continue the conversation.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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