6 Stories That Took Over Social Media This Year
This has been quite the year of show-stopping stories that dominated social media conversations. From spy balloons to Hollywood strikes, here are some of the stories that grabbed headlines and rocked social media in 2023.
1. Showdown in the Skies: America Blasts Beijing’s Runaway Balloon
The world paused in awe as mysterious balloons floated across the U.S. skies in February. After concerns of a possible alien invasion, the U.S. military shot down what ended up being a Chinese surveillance balloon the size of several school buses. After tracking the UFO for days across Montana skies, officials were able to down the balloon without posing any risk to those on the ground.
The incident heightened U.S.-China tensions, prompting Secretary Blinken to scrap a Beijing trip. While the spy apparatus was limited in functionality, the event certainly made us all wonder, what is out there?
We interrupt this pandemic to tell you about a spy balloon to tell you about a UFO to tell you about an airborne toxic event cover-up to tell you about another UFO
— Alie Ward (@alieward) February 12, 2023
2. Trump’s Rocky Legal Road Gets Bumpier with Indictment(s)
Donald Trump became the first former president to face criminal charges after a Manhattan grand jury indicted him in March on more than 30 counts related to business fraud. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleges that Trump offered adult film star Stormy Daniels hush money to remain quiet about their alleged affair. According to Bragg, Daniels was paid upwards of $130,000 during the 2016 campaign, which Trump emphatically denies.
Unfortunately for the former Commander-in-Chief, this opened the flood gates to a number of additional criminal charges, which span several states. Trump’s own tweets are coming into play in the case against him in Georgia related to attempting to overturn the 2020 election. And after X owner Elon Musk reinstated Trump’s account, the former president returned to the platform after more than two years — to share his mugshot that was taken after surrendering in Georgia.
As we head into the near year, which will be dominated by the presidential election, we’re all wondering what will come of these charges and how they will affect the run for the White House.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2023
3. Lights, Camera, Inaction! Hollywood Strikes Shut Down Productions
Tinsel town came to a halt in May when the Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced its first work stoppage in 15 years after contract negotiations with studios stalled. In July, SAG-AFTRA joined the picket lines as actors named their concerns about streaming pay and the use of AI. Some actors shared that their royalties are often pennies on the dollar and not sustainable to maintain working wages. Other concerns lamented the loss of creativity due to the emergence of AI writers.
The strike lasted for months, with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA combining forces and agreeing on similar pain points. The interruption to film and TV caused delays in both movie releases and fall lineups. The strike guidelines — some of which received some serious pushback — also had a ripple effect on social media influencers.
WGA ended its strike on Sept. 25, 2023, with a new contract that includes increased pay, viewership-based streaming bonuses, and assurances against AI. SAG-AFTRA followed soon after and ended its strike in early November. The new SAG contract also includes protections against AI and a historic pay increase.
— Mark Hamill (@MarkHamill) November 9, 2023
4. History Haunts the Deep as Titanic-Hunting Sub Goes Missing
In June, a group of voyagers embarked on a life changing trip. As they boarded OceanGate’s Titan submersible, they had hopes of visiting the wreckage of the Titanic.
Unfortunately, during the descent toward the wreckage, the submersible suffered a “catastrophic implosion” which took the lives of all five people on board. Four days after the tragic loss, the U.S. Coastguard conducted a sweep of the ocean floor, finding debris from the submersible. The recovery efforts were still ongoing in October.
As the tragedy unfolded, social media was dominated with constant news updates for those waiting to hear the latest developments. It was also the focus of an unfortunate wave of posts that devolved into “a garbage dump of vile commentary” as the public made jokes about the controller used to navigate Titan, the billionaires on board, and more. The hashtag #titansubmarine has more than 660 million views on TikTok alone.
The US Coast Guard confirms the Titan submersible imploded near the wreckage of the Titanic and that all 5 passengers are dead. pic.twitter.com/vGhauZ4lkO
— Pubity (@pubity) June 22, 2023
5. Inferno in Paradise: Hawaii Wildfire
In early August, the beloved island of Maui was engulfed in a massive wildfire caused by dry conditions, high winds, and downed power lines. The fire killed nearly 100 people and nearly destroyed the town of Lahaina in its wake.
During the fire, conspiracy theories began to spread across social media claiming that the fire was started intentionally as part of a land grab and to weed out less wealthy Maui residents. Reports also found that China was sowing disinformation regarding the cause of the fire.
“Social media is incredibly valuable in crisis events as people on the ground can report the facts directly, but that usefulness is tempered, and can be dangerous, if misleading claims proliferate particularly in the immediate aftermath,” Renee DiResta, a research manager at Stanford University who studies misinformation, told CNN.
The event displaced families and forever restructured the layout of the island. Months later, families continue to work at regaining a sense of normalcy and “Aloha” and organizations like Maui Nui Strong are asking the public to help with recovery efforts.
Another before & after from Lahaina, Maui
(before from Google Maps, after from Richard Olsten on Facebook) pic.twitter.com/BDuki206Oo
— Steve Lookner (@lookner) August 9, 2023
6. No Peace in Middle East as Hamas-Israel War Reignited
A surprise terror attack by Hamas militants in Israel on Oct. 7 sparked a war that is still raging and having effects around the world. According to reports, around 240 hostages were taken and hundreds were killed in the initial attack. Israel has responded by laying siege to Gaza in the months since. The ongoing war has spun into a bloody, humanitarian crisis, dividing the members of UN and the world.
In November, a temporary ceasefire allowed Hamas to free several hostages in exchange for Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners and allowed more humanitarian aid into Gaza.
The war has unfolded on social media since Oct. 7 and it’s shifted some users’ feeds entirely, according to The Washington Post. “Part uncertainty over what’s appropriate to post, part information war and, some allege, part virtue signaling, experts say it’s a moment in time online that is without precedent,” Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff writes.
Unfortunately, social media has also been a hotspot of misinformation regarding the war. The AP reports that fabrications have included false claims that a top Israeli commander had been kidnapped, a false video imitating a BBC News report, and the resurfacing of old and unrelated clips of Russian President Vladimir Putin with inaccurate English captions.
LIVE UPDATES: Nearly 20,000 people in Gaza have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war, with 70% of them women and children, according to Gaza health officials. https://t.co/HtjehqnJkx
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 19, 2023
And there you have it, folks — the wild ride that was 2023 all wrapped up. Though the year took us on a rollercoaster of impromptu political scandals, startling extraterrestrial discoveries, and more, here’s hoping 2024 brings more opportunities for unity, compassion, and positive change.
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For the past 8 years, Joi has worked for Cision, helping clients understand and utilize their Cision services. Her talents allow her to enjoy writing and creating videos and art. She is also consistently researching the intersection of criminal justice and mental health.
A native of Newark, New Jersey, Joi earned her Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University, followed by a Master's in Criminal Justice from Boston University. While in her Master’s program, she recognized the impact of mental health issues in the criminal justice system. This inspired her to pursue another advanced degree in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling from the University of the District of Columbia.
Outside of work, Joi enjoys spending quiet moments with her twin children and partner. She continues giving back to her community through work with her sorority and church. Though Joi keeps busy, she always makes time for her creative passions, exploring emerging developments in fields close to her heart.