Blog Post

Sensationalism in Social Media


    Throughout the decades, technology has significantly advanced to become a fundamental part of human communication, however, within recent years the problem of sensationalization has become an enormous problem among social media sites, and has darkened the media in a way in which violence and negativity has become the main news source in day to day life.

    Sensationalism is a tricky topic to exam in terms of media. It is known that “the word ‘sensationalism’ was invented in the nineteenth century as a pejorative term, to denounce works of literature or journalism that aimed to arouse strong emotional reactions in public” (Wiltenburg). Sensationalism was a way for those in the journalism industry to poke holes in other stories and shed light on small instances. Within the past few years, this weapon has been brought about in order to inch its way into social media culture. Within the year 2017 alone, news casts have sensationalized numerous violent acts of terrorism and violence against humanity as a whole. Often times “representations of crime, influence people’s conception of their lives and communities far out of proportion to actual incidence of criminal activity” (Wiltenburg). Sensationalism is used to bring out fear within people and the constant questions of who can be trusted and who can’t. With the uprise of sensationalism, social media in particular has become a beacon for negativity and hate.

    Without platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, ext., sensationalism would not be able to peak to the point where humans are adapting it into their form of communication. In a study done in 2015, “...statistics show that 1.32 billion people of the world population make use of social media for social, political, and economic purposes” (Oginni). Approximately 1.32 billion people in the world are at chance of falling into the trap of sensationalism. Overall this means that sensationalism was bound to peak with the rest of the technological advancements. Within the last decade alone, “the development of social media tools... has altered modes of communications…” (Oginni) in a way that people are no longer speaking face to face but texting the person right next to them instead. Social media has become a platform for more than just sharing images, it has developed into a way for people to anonymously threaten other users. A way for harassment and bullying to spike and for ridicule and hate to persevere. Sensationalism can be found everywhere one looks in terms of social media because people are able to sensationalize actions and instances that would have originally been small and irrelevant but were blown into something far more complex and severe.

    Certain questions often come to mind when we think about the terms sensationalism in retrospect to social media. One of these questions being what is it about the sensationalism of darker media that draws human attention? The answer to this question is still unknown but some say it has to do with the growth of sensationalism. There are “more than 66 percent of Americans” (Oginni) alone that are constantly building and expanding on social media, and this number “is increasing triple folds year after year” (Oginni). Although darker sensationalized media is becoming more prominent, it is not the main focus of media site. In fact “most of the literature on networks and collaboration is quite positive” (Raab), but just because most of the networks are positive does not mean that the portion that is being darkened is any less of threat. The reason humans attract to darker media may be far too complex to fully grasp, but a small understanding is that humans crave a form of media in which they can spread, grow, and twist into their own preferences.

    Although it has mainly been discussed that sensationalism is directed more towards the negative aspects in terms of social media, it is important to note that as stated above, not all literature is negative and most are typically positive. The reason why positive networks do not attract as much human attention as darker networks, is because positive networks do not hold the same spreadability as darker networks. The word “ ‘spreadability’ refers to the potential -- both technical and cultural -- for audiences to share content for their own purposes... “ (Jenkins). In terms of social media, the spreadability of darker media is higher than that of positive media. When the numbers are taken to show how much dark sensationalized media has grown over the course of the last few years, it's increase can in short be put towards the fact that it has higher spreadability and therefore more appeal to audiences.

    Within every topic there are varying perspectives and point of views in which people tend to analyze media. With sensationalism, there are both positive and negative viewpoints that are held in terms of accepting sensationalism. Towards the positive side of sensationalism, “one of the basic features of research on networks, which repeatedly appears in almost all studies, is the statement that networks are often the only governance form that is able to deal with today’s complex problems” (Raab). Government officials refuse to share problems on media and rely on technology to resolve those problems. With sensationalism, it is possible for the people who do not have access or partake in government affairs to know what is happening. Social media is one of the top platforms to show situations such as terrorist attacks that would not have been known had they not been sensationalized. The government would have kept it from people in order for most humans to remain ignorant to what is occurring around them. On the flip side, the darker side to sensationalism is the use for terrorist groups such as modern day ISIS to have access to spark fear within many people. The saying where “nature cannot predict the future, but the mechanism of mutation creates different species with different traits, and the fittest prevail” (Bollacker) is in metaphor saying that humans cannot predict what will occur, but through tools such as social media to spark fear and power, only those who are willing to adapt and push through these fear will survive. The connection with the saying and sensationalizing dark media is that unless as a human one is able to break past fear of what sensationalized news may cause, one may never be able to persevere into a future free of sensationalized media.

    People may claim that sensationalized social media is a problem that only America has encountered. The reality of this claim is that there is no way a sensationalized social media could be an American problem only because social media is world wide. Studies have shown that “in China, the use of social media has become instrumental to public diplomacy and social transformation, through popular social media like Facebook and Twitter” (Oginni). People in China are using social media platforms within their “public diplomacy”. That means that if social media platforms are being used to spread sensationalized media, it affects the Chinese as much as it affect the Americans. There is not set way in which sensationalized social media does not affect the world as a whole.

    There has been continuous mention of social media, spreadability, dark media, positive media, and sensationalism. Each of these words hold meaning on their own but also as a group. Sensationalized news is not news to follow. Although it is easy to spread sensationalized dark media, it does not mean it should be done. Often times when sensationalized positive media is spread, it is a way for those who wish to have hope, spread hope. Unfortunately reality is that social media is not a place of just happiness. It is a home base for soldiers such as sensationalism and dark media to latch themselves onto and spread out to varying places of the world. It’s said that “the most prominent example in media context is content that keeps the public informed about social and political affairs..” (Claassen). Media, social media in particular, was designed to enable human connection and with sensationalism, the human connection is soaring in a negative direction. Just because something can easily be spread and manipulated, does not make it right. Going back to the roots of why social media was developed in the first place, it was not for sensationalized negativity to be spread across all area of the world. The real reason social media was created was to serve as a platform for strengthening human connection from various parts of the world. With the continous advancement of sensationalism, social media is straying from what it was originally created for. Both the internet and social media “are increasingly recognized as important in the social sciences” (Whelan). The internet as a whole is important for society and is deemed important in the social sciences as well.

    The realm of media, social media in particular, is challenging in understanding the overall development of sensationalism but that factor is not key. What is important, is being aware that sensationalism is on a one track way of overcoming all that social media and media in general way originally created to be. Being aware of the problem is the first step, the next step is beginning to put an end to it. Sensationalized news is posted on social media sites by people who wish to control others and seek power over the internet as a whole. If people continuously give into the spreadability of the sensationalized dark media, then there will soon be no more social media to spread. In order to go back to human connection, human hatred must be resolved and the start is by sharing true news with the intention of people finding connections and empathy with other people.



Bollacker, Kurt D. “Computing Science: Avoiding a Digital Dark Age.” American Scientist, vol. 98, no. 2, 2010, pp. 106–110. JSTOR, JSTOR,


Claassen, Rutger. “Communication as Commodity: Should the Media Be on the Market?” Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 28, no. 1, 2011, pp. 65–79. JSTOR, JSTOR,


Jenkins, Henry, 1958-. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York; London : New York University Press, 2013. Print.


Oginni, Simon Oyewole, and Joash Ntenga Moitui. “Social Media and Public Policy Process in Africa: Enhanced Policy Process in Digital Age.” Consilience, no. 14, 2015, pp. 158–172. JSTOR, JSTOR,


Raab, Jörg, and H. Brinton Milward. “Dark Networks as Problems.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: J-PART, vol. 13, no. 4, 2003, pp. 413–439. JSTOR, JSTOR,


Whelan, Glen, et al. “Corporations and Citizenship Arenas in the Age of Social Media.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 118, no. 4, 2013, pp. 777–790. JSTOR, JSTOR,


Wiltenburg, Joy. “True Crime: The Origins of Modern Sensationalism.” The American Historical Review, vol. 109, no. 5, 2004, pp. 1377–1404. JSTOR, JSTOR,






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