Multi-Step Flow Theory
A theory stating that the mass media distributing information first flows down to opinion leaders before getting to the public.
How Multi-Step Flow Theory Works
The multi-step flow theory was first postulated in 1944 by Lazarsfeld, a social researcher from America. However, this theory was developed in 1955 by Elihu Katz and Lazarsfeld. This theory explains that the opinion leaders are the middlemen between the information delivered by the media and the way the general public reacts to this information. This is because opinion leaders have a considerable influence over the general public more than the mass media due to socioeconomic conditions, demographics, interests, personality, etc.
So, it means that opinion leaders often impact the general public in the way they see, believe, and react to information from the media. The public will better relate to a prominent leader in society than a newspaper article or news broadcast on TV or their radio set. This theory further explains that distributing information is an essential social tool that people can use to shape the public's general view. However, you should understand that an opinion leader is only a political group leader and can only influence their particular group.
Suppose the mass media releases information. In that case, the opinion leader will tell their political group the information. In the process, the leader might add some false information or remove an important detail, all to influence the group he or she is leading. The demographic who these opinion leaders easily influence are primarily illiterate and do not have access to direct information.
Multi-step Flow Theory Example
In recent years, social media pages have become a hub where the multi-step flow theory thrives. You often witness influencers changing and shipping the ideology and concepts of social and political topics. In no time, thousands or even millions of followers propagate and encourage these beliefs.
In today's world, opinions and information, true or false, are formed not from the news but Twitter and Instagram. An excellent example of the power and destruction of the multi-step flow theory is the events of Covid-19. False theories were easily propagated and spread through the web, including conspiracy theories surrounding 5G towers, Bill Gates, and more. Many times news and information were doctored and shaped to fit the opinions of an influencer.
One-Step Flow Theory vs. Multi-Step Flow Theory
Even though both one-step flow theory and multi-step flow theory are all communication theories, they discuss different ideas. One-step flow theory states that information is delivered directly from the mass media to the general public without the opinion leaders' interference in the communication process. The general public's views and reactions aren't influenced because the mass media's information has not been tampered with by the opinion leaders. This happens when the mass media has a significant influence on the general public's views and beliefs.
However, in the multi-step flow theory, opinion leaders tamper with the information that the mass media is trying to deliver. Opinion leaders tend to add their interpretations, views, and beliefs to the mass media's information before passing it to the general public. When a leader misinterprets a message, it tends to influence the general public wrongly. Generally, all active social media users tend to interpret information delivered by the mass media. The interpretation of this information can then be passed down to another person.