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COLUMN: Audience size does not tell the whole story

Influence does not make a message more credible
Not all messages online are equally credible. File photo

When it comes to people who wield influence, there are some impressive numbers.

Cristiano Ronaldo has more followers than anyone else on Facebook, with more than 122 million subscribers. He also has 568 million Instagram followers, more than any other individual.

Ronaldo is a Portuguese soccer player and regarded as one of the best players of all time in the most popular sport in the world.

Argentianian soccer player Lionel Messi is close behind Ronaldo, with 466 million Instagram followers.

On Twitter, former U.S. president Barack Obama leads the way with 133 million followers. Next is Elon Musk, the world’s second richest person, with 132.7 million followers. Canadian musician Justin Bieber is in third place with 113.4 million followers.

On the YouTube video streaming service, MrBeast has at least 130 million subscribers. This is more than any other individual account on the platform. MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, often showcases expensive stunts on his video channel.

The Joe Rogan Experience is one of if not the most popular podcast in the world. In 2019, Rogan said the podcast had 190 million downloads each month. The podcast began in late 2009 and has amassed a significant following over the years. While the podcast has come under criticism on numerous occasions, it continues to have a strong following.

A focus on popularity and celebrity status is nothing new. For years, celebrity endorsements have been used to promote products and services. What is changing is the amount of reach and influence someone is able to achieve, through a variety of platforms.

Today, the statistics and figures from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms are ways to measure someone’s online popularity. However, popularity alone does not tell the complete story. It doesn’t tell us how these people are wielding their influence.

The number of followers or podcast downloads does not address the quality or accuracy of the content, nor do these figures show whether the person creating the content is believed to have integrity.

The Youth Science Survey, conducted in 2021 by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, showed 73 per cent of youth follow at least one social media influencer who has expressed an anti-science view.

This is why it is important to evaluate the messages one hears and reads. Information surrounds us, but unless that information is credible and accurate, it can do a lot of damage.

Edward R. Murrow, a 20th-century American radio and television broadcaster, addressed this almost 65 years ago.

“Your voice, amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other, does not confer upon you greater wisdom than when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other,” he said in a speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958.

Today, in a world where there are many platforms to gain an audience and spread a message, the focus on integrity, accuracy and trustworthiness should be paramount.

The quality of one’s message should matter, whether one is an internationally renowned soccer player, a former president, a billionaire or an entertainer.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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