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The Rise and Fall of Mass Communication

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William L. Benoit and Andrew C. Billings

Mass communication theories were largely built when we had mass media audiences. The number of television, print, film or other forms of media audiences were largely finite, concentrating people on many of the same core content offerings, whether that be the nightly news or a popular television show. What happens when those audiences splinter? The Rise and Fall of Mass Communication surveys the aftermath of exactly that, noting that very few modern media products have audiences above 1–2% of the population at any one time. Advancing a new media balkanization theory, Benoit and Billings neither lament nor embrace the new media landscape, opting instead to pinpoint how we must consider mass communication theories and applications in an era of ubiquitous choice.
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Chapter Five The Illusion of Modern Mass Media: False Cultural Barometers and Why Nothing Truly ‘Breaks the Internet’

CHAPTER FIVE

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The Illusion of ModernMass Media: False Cultural Barometersand Why Nothing Truly ‘Breaks the Internet’

On June 27, 2019, a viral Internet moment was born. Dubbed “Storm Area 51: They Can’t Stop All of Us”, Matty Roberts had created a nice Facebook web chuckle by urging people to arrive at the location at the same date and time (3 a.m. on September 20, 2019) to find answers and, as one poster promised “to break out our alien homies.” It was clearly based in a joke; Roberts had argued that “we can run faster than their bullets. Let’s see them aliens.” Nevertheless, over two million people said they were going; over 1.5 million more said they were “interested” (Allyn, 2019). Suddenly, this fake event seemed quite real as event spaces were secured, t-shirts and other apparel for “Alienstock” were created, and the American military prepared a response that included an additional 150 officers and 300 paramedics that could counter the potential onslaught. Roberts, the creator of the event, admitted that what started as a joke could become a “possible humanitarian disaster” (Nevett, 2019, para. 5).

Then the fateful day came. For the most part, nothing happened. The 3.5 million people “going” or “interested” had dwindled to 150 people who arrived. Only one person actually crossed the boundary, who was immediately apprehended; the most prevalent crime that was charged was for public urination (Zialcita, 2019). Many lessons could be exacted from the “Storm Area 51” case, but one of...

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