On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong exclaimed, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Obviously, this was the day that man first stepped foot on our planet’s moon. It was one of the biggest events of that decade and an unbelievably significant scientific feat. Countless Americans sat around their television that day and watched the events unfolding live from their own living rooms. It was one of the most (if not the most) discussed event of that decade and people began to believe that humankind’s potential was limitless. The first landing eventually led to five more manned US missions to the moon.
That initial landing on the moon marked the beginning of the explosion in space exploration. Over the years though, that desire to focus on space exploration—especially in the public’s eye—has slowly lessened. In 2014, Capitol Hill actually passed a bill to cut NASA’s budget to levels they had not reached since 2007. However, on Monday NASA scientists announced that Mars has signs of flowing water on its surface. In the scientific community this discovery could be considered as groundbreaking as the first landing of man on the moon, as ultimately water could mean the potential for life on Mars.
In July 1969 there were no social media sites in which the public could react to the momentous events unfolding, yet today things are different. In a time where individuals and the government were losing interest in space science, this wonderful discovery of water on Mars came to light. Immediately upon hearing about the news, I had to wonder how this discovery would circulate on social media. Besides the obvious news articles that appear as trending on Facebook or Tweets CNN sends out, I wanted to know if social media users would actually pay attention to this event (if at all) and what that ultimately means for social media and scientific discoveries of the future.
The results were mixed when it came to the #MarsAnnouncement. As expected the first Tweets sent were from news sources such as CNN. But quickly it became clear that the internet was paying attention to this big announcement, as the handle #MarsAnnouncement began trending in the top 5 Twitter trends all over the world. Though there were the individuals that took serious scientific interest in this subject, most of the world decided it was their time to make a joke about Martians or about how Mars now has more water than the state of California. Normal social media users and celebrities alike capitalized on the #MarsAnnouncement to get their retweets, upvotes, and likes.
However, besides the jokes being made about the discovery on Mars all across social media platforms, there was something else that I ran into on Reddit that caught my attention. The very day of the Mars announcement, Reddit hosted an AmA (Ask me Anything) thread with some of the actual NASA Mars scientists that worked on the research team. This thread gave users the opportunity to voice their opinions and ask any questions they might have about the discovery, while receiving real-time answers from NASA scientists (an example response is shown below). What was most unbelievable about this AmA was that it was conducted the very same day that the announcement was made. This allowed social media users to get beyond making jokes on the internet, and instead actually show genuine interest in the announcement. The post generated over 7500 comments alone, not including the number of page views overall.
So what did I learn about how social media reacted to the Mars Announcement and what does that tell me about social media’s role in future scientific/medical discoveries? To me there are two things:
- Any publicity is good publicity. Even though many people used the #MarsAnnouncement to make jokes and poke fun, ultimately it got the whole topic trending across multiple social media networks. Whether or not people had a genuine interest in the scientific impact of the discovery, it got people talking about the topic. It truly did get people excited in one way or another, even if it was just to make a joke.
- Social media is becoming an amazing channel for real-time information. Instead of having to wait to read an article written at a later date, people who are interested in the topic have the ability to get their questions answered right away the day of big announcements. Again, this keeps people talking about it whether it is between users or between users and the actual scientists.
What was your experience with the #MarsAnnouncement? Did you find the discovery exciting, were you annoyed that your social media feeds were overwhelmed, or did you find the experience simply entertaining?
Thanks for reading!