The Power of Social Media: A modern examination of the hypodermic needle/magic bullet theory

The hypodermic or magic bullet theory hypothesises that a media message can be shot directly into the brains of its audience, who then wholly accepts the message and was the founding work of Harold Laswell (1927) in response to examination of media and its affects utilised in the First World War.

This theory widely debunked from the 1940’s onwards by Paul Lazarsfeld amongst others, who claimed a two-step communications flow was more realistic, whereby messages were received and interpreted by opinion leaders.These opposing theories occurred at a time when main media was prevalent in the form of printed press, radio and television, and was utilised by governments and major organisations to transmit their message.
Watch video on Hypodermic Needle Model/Magic Bullet Theory:

Fast forward to the 21st century and is the hypodermic needle theory still invalid? This digital dinasour believes that with the emergence of social media as a force in mass communications it’s time for Laswell’s theory to be reconsidered.

In the following paper,”Rethinking the Bullet Theory in the Digital Age” you can read a study on how the magic bullet theory has been applied in modern society in light of the use of social media. In one example, authors Chinenye Nwabueze and Ebere Okonkwo given an example of how parents became aware of an online rumour which caused them to panic and pull their children out of school. This was completely incorrect but it is a good example of how the magic bullet/hypodermic needle theory can be applied to social media:

People can be seen to have simply accepted or reacted mindlessly, to a piece of information that was literally injected into their brains, this being the hypothesis of the “Magic Bullet Theory” or Hypodermic Needle theory leads to the conclusion maybe this theory’s time has come with the advent of mass social media, or at least a re-visitation.

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