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Public Opinion Formed by Celebrities in Social Media Dissertation

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2022

Social media is a big part of people’s lives. On the one hand, social media has changed and revolutionised the way that people communicate. Thus, it helps individuals to build communication with each other, look for helpful and interesting information, work through the social media platforms, and entertain a certain audience by recording videos and writing blogs and posts. On the other hand, through social media, people are able to form and influence public opinion if they have an influence on society or power of persuasion. Individuals are still trying numerous tactics of persuasion. In fact, if the person is popular, they might use their popularity to achieve a particular objective. In most cases, people use their popularity in order to earn money, especially if they have been working on this goal for a long time; however, popularity has become a powerful instrument to shape public opinion. With a good understanding of public relations, it is possible to form, control, and impact the way that people think. The worldwide spread of mass media has given celebrities a powerful status. Currently, people that became known for their achievements in sport, music, cinematography, theatre, etc. gain their fan base through the Internet, especially social media platforms. People develop psychological bonds with celebrities and try to imitate their lives in order to appear to be more attractive, trendy and popular. In this case, celebrities become role models, whose behaviour, beliefs and values are adopted by other people. To define this process, scholars use the term ‘identification’ (Fraser & Brown 2002). They believe that identification is a basic process of social change in which public opinion and values transform under the influence of celebrities. Fraser and Brown (2002) suggest that the main reason why people identify themselves with personae is the need to enhance their self-esteem. As a result, people not only imitate the celebrities’ behaviour and such manners of expression as clothing and makeup style but also seek to visit the same places and shop in the same stores. Their willingness to emulate lifestyle and share the beliefs of celebrities is widely used in shaping the public opinion on various matters: politics, economy, art, morals, etc. The main purpose of this literature review is to analyse the existing scholarship and data that is going to be collected for the investigation in order to figure out how public opinion can be formed by a certain person via social media. Assuming that the combination of social media platforms with celebrated personalities is an effective instrument of influence and persuasion, we seek to study previous related research and theories, sort out the existing mechanisms and algorithms by which societal values and attitudes change, observe regular occurrences and analyse the consequences of social change as result of media saturation.

Following the ideas of Blumer, Glynn et al. (2016, p. 13) make a clear distinction between a mass that has no interaction and a public that is “self-aware and interactive”. There are several approaches in which scholars define public opinion, stressing the idea that this concept is not homogeneous in itself and has various perspectives, such as aggregation, majority opinion, clash of groups, media/elite opinion and public opinion as fiction (Glynn et al. 2016). In the present study, we choose to consider public opinion as a reflection of the mainstream society’s values. Many scholars believe that public opinion can be seen as a projection of influential elite’s thoughts and beliefs on society (Fraser & Brown 2002; Glynn et al. 2016). In other words, the majority of people tend to adopt the thoughts and ideas that they hear on the radio, television, and learn through the Internet. In this context, famous politicians, journalists, public figures, actors, writers, performers, or, if simply put, celebrated personalities, become if not the role models but apparent opinion makers.

The literature that was reviewed for the present study may be divided into two groups. The first group of studies examines various factors, methods and techniques that serve as an instrument of influence on public opinion through the social media in particular. The studies of the second group aim to explain why people allow social media affect their values and beliefs. The core concept of the majority of studies that aim to examine the change of public opinion is persuasion (Bernays 1923; Ciadini 2014; Fraser & Brown 2002; Glynn et al. 2016, Perloff 2010). Persuasion plays an important role in contemporary life. It could be argued that the Internet and all social media platforms are a persuader’s paradise due to the fact that it is possible to promote millions of products and services with the help of websites. Perloff (2010, p. 8) defines persuasion as a “process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviour regarding an issue through the transmission of a message”. Communicators do not and cannot change people’s minds; people are free to decide whether to change their attitudes or to resist persuasion. However, there are two instruments that cannot be used for influencing public opinion. Perloff (2010) states that the terms ‘propaganda’ and ‘manipulation’ are bandied about when social influence and persuasion are discussed and claims that these terms cause negative associations because they are usually used in negative contexts. Public opinion may be shaped only when people are given the freedom of choice. Communicators may apply the instrument of persuasion but must avoid such tools of influence as manipulation and propaganda (Perloff 2010; Thaler & Sunstein 2008).

The main objective of persuasion is to motivate individuals or groups to take a specific action, for instance, buying a certain brand of toothpaste or automobile, voting for a specific candidate, supporting one side or the other of a political issue, or signing up with one cable provider over another. The motivation includes a persuasive message, which can directly impact public opinion. A persuasive message might be verbal or nonverbal. Also, it could be relayed interpersonally, through mass media or via social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. It might be reasonable or unreasonable, factual or emotional. In most cases, the message consists of arguments or simple cues, such as music or food in an advertisement, which can cause pleasant memories to come to mind (Perloff 2010). Thus, persuasive messages are capable of impacting or changing public opinion and can be considered as one of the instruments of influence. Thaler and Sunstein (2008) employ a concept of ‘libertarian paternalism’ as one more instrument that helps to affect societal attitudes and values, stating that libertarian paternalists urge that people should be free to choose. According to Thaler and Sunstein (2008, p. 5), the main idea of libertarian paternalists is to “make it easy for people to go their own way: they do not want to burden those who want to exercise their freedom”. Sometimes, in order to attract a certain audience by leaving a freedom of choice, experts come up with the solution to use “nudge”. Thaler and Sunstein (2008, p. 6) define nudge as the “aspect of choice that changes people’s behaviour in a predictable way without restricting any options or significantly changing their economic incentives”. Thus, in some cases, celebrities or public figures invoke people to make a certain decision by using the theory of nudge. Furthermore, Perloff (2010) as well as Simons and Jones (2011) examine the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), which can tell when people should be particularly likely to elaborate, or not elaborate, on persuasive messages. Basically, the ELM determines that there are two ways in which people process communication. The model refers to the two routes to persuasion as the central and peripheral routes or processes. The first way is a central route. It occurs when humans concentrate in depth on the central features of the issue, person, or message. In other words, when people process information globally, they carefully evaluate message arguments and ideas and relate information to their own knowledge and values. The second route is peripheral and is completely different. The peripheral route of thinking means that people examine the message quickly, not focusing on the core details. When processing peripherally, individuals usually rely on simple decision-making rules. Therefore, public opinion can be simply formed if individuals do not process the information globally and depend on the elementary decision-making process. Thus, the ELM helps to impact public opinion by helping to distinguish between the categories of people who are simple information processors or deep, detailed thinkers.

A series of studies seek to find an explanation of public’s exposure to social media (Ciadini 2014; Fraser & Brown 2002; O’Mahony & Meenaghan 1997). Fraser and Brown (2002) compare celebrities to heroes and stresses that people have always been identifying themselves with someone who is better and should be followed, role modelled and emulated. Before the age of ubiquitous social media, it was heroes who served as examples to public; however, with the appearance of radio, television and Internet it became possible to learn more about personal lives of celebrated personalities. While identifying themselves with celebrities, people develop strong emotional, psychological bonds with them and attempt to copy their lifestyle and adopt their values and beliefs, because words ‘celebrity’ and ‘success’ became synonymous (Fraser & Brown 2002). There are several reasons for identification. Some scholars consider that this process occurs when a person shares or believes that they share certain features and beliefs with another person (Ciadini 2014; Fraser & Brown 2002). The result of identification with celebrities is the social change, that is, the change of values among mass audiences. Little research has examined the role of celebrated personalities in promoting values among people because it is difficult to ascertain the relationship between the result of actual value promotion and the audience members’ values. However, it is established that people adopt celebrities’ values by identifying themselves with them in order to compensate for personal failures and enhance the self-esteem. One more concept to be considered in the research of how celebrities influence public opinion is the process of impersonation, in which people adopt celebrities’ values and lifestyles because they develop the so-called ‘perceived’ relationships with them (Fraser & Brown 2002). As a result, corporations seek to get celebrities involved in their advertising campaigns in order to draw the attention of public to the products and promote image values of these products (O’Mahony & Meenaghan, 1997).

By realising how public opinion can be formed, several models and theories may be distinguished and seen as tools that basically help to build public opinion, especially via social media platforms. A wide range of studies is devoted to the concept of persuasion as opposed to manipulation and propaganda in shaping public opinion (Bernays 1923; Ciadini 2014; Fraser & Brown 2002; Glynn et al. 2016, Perloff 2010). Among the most common instruments of influence are persuasive messages, nudges and the Elaboration Likelihood Model (Perloff 2010; Simons & Jones 2011; Thaler & Sunstein 2008). The principle of social proof explains why people are easily subjected to the influence of social media and celebrities in particular (Simons & Jones 2011). Identification and impersonation are the key concepts in the study of how celebrated personalities influence the opinion of public (Fraser & Brown 2002). Although it is accepted that celebrities play an important role in shaping public opinion and transformation of societal values, little research examines these phenomena in great detail, which is why the present study is timely and relevant since it investigates the process of the public opinion shaping on the example of social media platform Instagram.

Reference List

Bernays, EL 1923, Crystallizing public opinion, Liveright, New York, New York.

Ciadini, RB 2014, Influence: Science and practice, 5th edn, Pearson, Harlow, United Kingdom.

Fraser, BP & Brown, WJ 2002, ‘Media, celebrities, and social influence: Identification with Elvis Presley’, Mass Communication & Society, vol. 5, no. 2, pp.183-206.

Glynn, CJ, Herbst, S, Lindeman, M, O’Keefe, GJ & Shapiro, RY 2016, Public opinion, 3rd edn, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado.

O’Mahony, S & Meenaghan, T 1997, ‘The impact of celebrity endorsements on consumers’, Irish Marketing Review, vol. 10, no. 2, pp.15-24.

Perloff, RM 2010, The dynamics of persuasion: Communication and attitudes in the twenty-first century, Routledge, Abingdon, United Kingdom.

Simons, HW & Jones, JG 2011, Persuasion in society, 2nd edn, Routledge, Abingdon, United Kingdom.

Thaler, RH & Sunstein, CR 2008, Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness, Penguin, London, United Kingdom.

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