UNC Greensboro’s Dr. Aaron Beveridge is using home-brewed software to better understand how social media influences the media and popular opinion.
The project sparked a few years ago, while Beveridge was in graduate school, when he watched “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon make a claim without any discernible evidence.
“He said something like, ‘We just caused this to trend worldwide,’” Beveridge recalls. The assistant professor, who focuses on digital rhetoric, was skeptical. “Is that true? Can I question that? Because to say that something trends worldwide would be such a cultural phenomenon and so powerful – to make that claim without giving data is an unfair thing to do.”
The notion that a particular idea is “trending” – in recent years, based on lists of trending items that show up in social media networks and online platforms – is used for more than just late-night laughs. Journalists cite the idea that something is trending in news stories to explain why it might be important. Politicians tout trends as social proof to buttress their positions.
Originally published May 30, 2019.