‘The Slap’ of a newborn social media landscape

Will Smith slapped Chris Rock and a startled world took to social media. Twitter spiked with hot takes, TikTok flickered with memes, Wikipedia wrote a rough draft of history – and Facebook missed the whole show.

Once the center ring of social media, Facebook missed a zeitgeist moment, according to data and experts. And that is noteworthy, that the once-mighty is now too “meta,” having become an outdated rehashing, like AOL became for the internet.

A surprise incident at an already highly watched event is a hotbed for social media reaction – and “The Slap” may have been the first incident to reflect a new social media landscape, according to data from the San Francisco company Cloudflare and social media experts.

Smith stalked onstage and slapped Rock after Rock told a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith’s wife. The incident flabbergasted the Oscars’ in-person audience – and set social media ablaze, but in a new way.

Twitter got 32% more traffic a few minutes after the altercation, according to Cloudflare, a San Francisco internet traffic-regulating and cybersecurity company. Moments later, when Smith tearfully apologized to the Academy while accepting the award for Best Actor, Twitter traffic peaked, with 51% more traffic than before the incident, according to Cloudflare data.

“Twitter and TikTok were the social networks that seemed more impacted by the moment,” the company found in an analysis of Oscar data reviewed by The Examiner.

Cloudflare, a public company worth $41 billion in stock value, protects more than 100,000 corporate customers and more than 25 million websites. Cloudflare Radar, a metrics dashboard that provides aggregate information about Internet traffic and attack trends, can estimate traffic to websites without seeing who is going there, or what they are doing there.

Cloudflare found one major player of the past missed the Oscar party.

“Facebook and Instagram weren’t particularly impacted, although there’s a decrease in traffic after the ceremony started and requests start to decrease after 19:00, especially Facebook,” the Cloudflare report found.

You read that right. When the Smith-Rock incident was electrifying social media, Facebook’s traffic was actually way down compared to earlier in the Oscars ceremonies. Here’s why that matters: Just seven years ago, Facebook was the king of social media, and was looking to cash in on “second screen” viewing as a new frontier.

“TV viewers are connecting on Facebook during their favorite broadcast programs,” the company wrote in an October 2015 rollout of new tools to help the TV industry connect with social media. “We highlighted one relevant study on our Facebook for Business blog which found that 85% of people who reported visiting a social network while watching TV said they visited Facebook.”

Not anymore.

“Despite what Facebook wants to be, it has been bracketed by users as a place where you connect with a family, where you might have a political argument with a family member. That has become the nature of Facebook,” says Isra Ali, a social media expert at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics.

Twitter, meanwhile, is “where you go to see what everyone is saying, to get the hot takes,” believes Ali, a clinical assistant professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU.

And it wasn’t just Twitter that blew past its old rival. TikTok saw a peak of 40% more traffic right after the tearful Smith speech, Cloudflare found. Ali says that reflects a changing social media landscape. “TikTok skews younger and is a place where remixing of an event that just happened, like the Will Smith slap, takes place, creating memes.”

Facebook and TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Twitter said it could not provide metrics or comment.

On Wikipedia, meanwhile, the Smith-Rock incident was added to the article on the 2022 Oscars just a half-hour after it happened, with volunteer editors discussing how to describe it.

“Obviously, the Rock/Smith confrontation will be the big story coming out of this ceremony. Where should we put it in this article?” a volunteer editor wrote just 33 minutes after the incident. On the “Talk Page” where people working on a page confer, another volunteer editor replied, “For the moment, stick to exactly what we saw on the broadcast, and put it in a new section.”

That participation of how the event is perceived goes beyond Facebook’s previous role as a social media home base.

“Wikipedia demonstrates how at the same time an event is taking place, people are processing what is happening,” Ali says. There were 17 sources, including NBC, The Guardian, and The New York Times, cited about the incident on Wikipedia less than 24 hours later.

Google also showed a spike of searches for phrases such as “will smith slap” and other phrases peaking a half-hour after the incident. And the Oscars website itself saw a spike of 1,300% in traffic after Smith’s tearful speech.

Howard Rheingold, a longtime social media expert and former professor at Stanford University, says the evolution to a new kind of social media is inevitable and ongoing. “Young people have always repurposed new communication media, then moved on when it became a cultural norm,” Rheingold says.

“The Slap,” as a pop culture event, points out that the “second screen” world has changed, Alis says.

“You can see an intensification of speed, and a compression of understanding what happened. And you can see users making a decision of how they want to use the platforms. We might think the algorithms are brilliant and in charge, but people are determining how they use social media, too.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *