Magic bullet theory or just fake news?

Abigail Sames
2 min readJan 25, 2021

The hypodermic needle theory or the magic bullet theory was created in 1938 when Actor/director Orson Welles created a radio drama known as “War of the Worlds” built around an invasion of the Earth by people from Mars based on a story from author H.G. Wells but modified to sound as if it were a news report actually happening (Rosenberry & Vicker, 2017). Millions of people who heard the broadcast believed it to be real.

More recently, in Nigeria, chaos ensued when people ran to the local schools to withdraw their children based on social media stories that the Nigerian Army was murdering people using the Phantom Monkey Pox vaccination. Instead of considering the truth behind the posts, people rushed to the schools.

“The Magic Bullet theory graphically assumes that the media’s message is a bullet fired from the media gun into the viewer’s head” (Berger, 1995).

Both of these situations seem silly. Who believes everything they see or hear from the media? In a world full of fake news, I’m beginning to question if the hypodermic needle theory is more relevant than previously assumed and if we are all vulnerable. With the growing popularity of social media, many people share articles without fully dissecting them. The continued sharing of information creates even more opportunities for fake or misleading information to be spread.

In 2019 alone, the top 100 fake news stories on Facebook were viewed over 150 million times. One of these stories claimed that President Donald Trump’s grandfather was, “a pimp and tax evader,” and that his father was a member of the KKK. Another stated that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a nationwide motorcycle ban.

Is fake news causing us to share more misleading information or to think twice before hitting the share button?

Recent events have encouraged me to do more fact-checking than normal. I’ve accepted that much of the information I see on social media is not accurate or true. Basically, take everything with a grain of salt. These days, the only way to find true and accurate information online is by doing your own research. Even what we hear on the news or radio isn’t necessarily all of the facts.

My advice for staying resistant to media influence and fake news? Always fact check before sharing.

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Abigail Sames
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Graduate student at UF. Dog mom. Adventurer. Avid cruiser. Working to understand and raise awareness of how the world grapples with the effects of #Covid-19.