kei’s notes

Social media shape public opinion

Social media vector public attention. Public attention frames public ‘objective’ perspectives and what appears to be genuine. Hence, depending on where their attention is put, what the public believe can alter, especially when the diffused information in focus shares a certain degree of familiarity.
==> [Familiarity transposes existing stances]

  • Because virality can overwhelm truth, what is known can be reshaped. “Power” on this battlefield [of authenticity] is thus measured not by physical strength or high-tech hardware, but by the command of attention. The result is a contest of psychological and algorithmic manipulation, fought through an endless churn of competing viral events. (Singer and Brooking; ch. 1)

As long as we are online, our attention becomes the chips of power control / influence in the information conflict. No matter we are interested in a particular subject or not, people surrounding us will still push forward events that may affect us as attention to this subject evolves and regresses on social media.

  • If you are online, your attention is like a piece of contested territory, being fought over in conflicts that you may or may not realize are unfolding around you. Everything you watch, like, or share represents a tiny ripple on the information battlefield, privileging one side at the expense of others. Your online attention and actions are thus both targets and ammunition in an unending series of skirmishes. Whether you have an interest in the conflicts of LikeWar or not, they have an interest in you. (Singer and Brooking; ch. 1)

Amidst all, our action & inaction both play a role as information becomes participative on the Internet. Everyone can receive, produce and diffuse ‘news’ online. There are almost no gatekeepers apart from the .

  • With the marriage of radical transparency and ever faster and more feverish crowdsourcing, the line between observer and participant has been irrevocably blurred. “News” originates not just with journalists, but with anyone at the scene with a smartphone; any soldier with an Instagram account; any president tweeting away while watching Fox News in his bedroom. In a sense, everyone has become part of the news. And while people who serve to make sense of the madness still exist, the character and identity of these gatekeepers have transformed as well. (Singer and Brooking; ch. 3)

This open participation may make us feel that the Web is free (and democratic). Indeed, it has grown to become the opposite as public use of Internet converges on a few online services. The control lies in the hands of these few tech giants that have prospered from it.

  • As Tim Berners-Lee has written, “The web that many connected to years ago is not what new users will find today. What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared... What’s more, the fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to [weaponize] the web at scale.” (Singer and Brooking; ch. 2)

Last update: 2021-01-10


Singer, P. W. and Emerson T. Brooking. LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

Social media shape public opinion