The Two-Step Theory, developed in the 1940s by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet, was theorized in response to the 1940 U.S. Presidential Election. It dissected who had more control over public opinion, the media versus opinion leaders. They determined it was the opinion leaders, those who share information and their perspectives, therefore influencing the message, which created an indirect relationship between media and the general consumer (Rosenberry & Vicker, 2017). As media avenues became more readily available and even aggressive, the two-step theory dissolved. However, we still see examples of the Two-Step Flow Theory today. The key here is determining who or what is considered a mass media outlet versus an independent entity.
For example, looking at TikTok, anyone can make an account and post content. From children to Fox News, individuals and companies alike can create videos and share the facts or their opinions. Here, we have seen news and media companies take on the social media app by condensing their content into short blurbs that are more attractive to the user. On the other hand, small social media users can take what they have learned through mass media and retell or reshare the stories with their own take and be considered influencers. Depending on their audience and reach, they could be regarded as opinion leaders but could eventually turn into a product or even a part of mass media.
These lines have become blurred over the years, with social media connecting more and more people together. When it comes to my personal experience and behaviors on social media, I tend not to post/repost much. I like to silently consume and aimlessly scroll through my various apps to relax, find funny videos, discover new ideas, and learn about what is going on in the world. I mean, if you’re anything like me, you may need to adjust your posture as you’re reading this in bed. (P.S. please comment and let me know if you’re the same k thanks. I need the validation).
A big part of this connects back to the Two-Step Theory. When the theory was first accepted, media and opinion leaders were the only options for information. Many had no choice but to take what they were saying as fact, as there was no internet or second source to verify the information. Now, we can. However, nearly a century later, people are still in the habit of taking what they see and hear at face value. I mean, when was the last time you double-checked a TikTok video? Are you taking what I am saying about the Two-Step Theory at face value? What if I made it all up, but in this context, it feels believable?
This is where we as consumers need to take a hard look at our information systems and what we conceive as reality. Thanks to social media, we can immediately receive information on developing stories and get involved through live videos, commenting, and messaging. This more personal connection allows for more people to get involved. We have seen society shift to falling down rabbit holes and believing articles, videos, and posts they see without a second glance or verification. At the same time, this means we need to take on our own sense of accountability and verify our sources and the information we receive. The only way we can ensure we are not getting trapped in this cycle, is if we take our own independent action. Next time you see an extreme statement, look it up, then share it here to prove the point.
Rosenberry, J. & Vicker, L. A. (2017). Applied Mass Communication Theory: A Guide for Media Practitioners. Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group