The hypodermic needle theory explains how mass media injects an intentional message into a passive audience, and subsequently creates a fixed mindset among people. When I think about how I receive information from various forms of media, I notice that the medium and content of the messaging determine my thinking and behavioral patterns; in some cases, I find myself influenced by the targeted messaging, but often times, I am aware of what is being asked of me and decide not to follow through. The following are cases in which I find myself compliant or non-compliant to the hypodermic needle theory:
- Social media is a highlight reel: It’s not uncommon to hear celebrities and influencers remind their audiences that social media is a “highlight reel”—that people tend to only share their best moments online rather than their low points or failures. While it depends on who is promoting this messaging (eg a celebrity vs. life coach), the idea has stuck with me and is something I try to remind myself of when I fall into the trap of self-comparison while scrolling through social media. Over time, I have found myself appreciating various lifestyle aspects of my favorite creators rather than trying to emulate their picture-perfect moments shared on social media. In this way, I do not find myself being “passive” to the curated nature of social media.
2. Misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic: As someone who primarily gets their news from television and social media, I noticed an increase in the amount of “debunking” and “fact-checking” of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic; From Twitter to news stations, it seemed like everyone had their own take on what we should (or shouldn’t) do to combat the pandemic. Face masks or an infringement of freedom? Get vaccinated or be microchipped? No matter what people believed or continue to believe in, it was evident that everything seemed highly politicized and had two schools of thought…and each side was adamant that their viewpoint was the “right” one. Personally, I was on the side of science and believed in getting vaccinated and practicing masking when in public, and followed the guidelines shared by entities like the CDC and World Health Organization; at a time when we didn’t know what the next day was going to bring, I put my trust in the media I was following (as did the opposing school of thought)—and so was receptive to its messaging. In fact, it is said that during times of crises such as the pandemic, the hypodermic needle theory is quite applicable.
3. Social media plays an influential role in many people’s buying habits (including my own): Those of us who consume social media know far too well how easy it is to see something—an item of clothing, a water bottle, or a piece. of furniture—and immediately try to find it and buy it for ourselves. It doesn’t help that platforms like Instagram and Pinterest make buying products that much easier by allowing users to save their payment information and checkout without ever leaving the platform. For me, social media advertising and influencer marketing have greatly changed my consumption habits especially in fashion—and I’m not alone in following the hypodermic needle theory in this scenario. According to Statista51% of Millennials and 63% of Gen-Z in the US purchased a product after seeing it on social media in 2022. Even amidst the inflation we’re currently experiencing, Americans are still spending their money on items deemed influential thanks to social media.
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