“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.” -George Orwell (1984)
Media sources have the power to heavily influence how people think. Often this is used for educational purposes and helpful reasons. However, with the incredible influence that media sources have over our perception of events and surroundings – it has become increasingly powerful as a tool for manipulation. This manipulation is done either by partisans or the media source itself, often for personal gain.
Politics is something that has become inescapable in our social media focused society. We all know a person that uses a social media platform to start arguments with people they disagree with politically. Often spreading misinformation that will heavily sway other people’s beliefs as well. (Strandberg et al. 2018) This behavior has always been a part of our internet culture as social media allows people to reach a larger audience than ever before. (Nelson, 2018) However, this type of behavior has become increasingly common with the influence of a few factors. Due to our media’s representation of political turmoil and indifferences it has caused an increase in polarization over the recent years and the divide continues to grow.
Social media and news media have an enormous impact on the way that we process current events. Both sources can cause the public to believe something based on false information to the extent that it becomes the norm. A non-political and humorous example of this is the belief that carrot consumption improves eyesight. The only truth to this is if you already have a Vitamin A deficiency. This belief was started during World War II when Britain’s news stories were reporting that Royal Air Force pilots included a large amount of carrots in their diet in an attempt to mask the true reason behind the recent success of their pilots against their German pilot counterparts. The British were hiding their recent application of radar technology in aircrafts, something the Germans were yet to grasp. (Mikkelson 2015) Nevertheless, there are people in the United States today that believe that anything outside of the minute amounts of beta-carotene/Vitamin A in carrots is improving their eyesight thanks to that myth perpetuated by media outlets during World War II. This certainly makes a point to show that if the media we rely on can report false information to make the entire world believe carrots improve eyesight, certainly they can make people sway their opinions on political issues using false information as well.
The news media loves dramatic stories that increase ratings. Each news outlet often leaning towards a specific political party and skewing events to align with their beliefs. The increase in political polarization in the public as well, has also led to an increase in hostility towards those with opposing views. In an effort to increase dramatization of events in exchange for higher ratings – news media will make it seem as though our political parties are at war with each other. This representation of events makes a majority of the public shift their beliefs towards the party they align with and it creates an “Us vs. Them environment.” (McLaughlin, 2018) Not only does this lead to an increase in intergroup conflict, but also partisan identification, affective polarization, and ideological polarization. To put this in simpler terms, the media will dramatize conflict, the public will feed off of the conflict and become increasingly hostile and polarized, and in response partisans will take advantage of this and hold increasingly extreme views in an effort to obtain more public favor.
The news media irresponsibly uses its incredible power for personal gain and profit, while social media gives a platform for the spread of misinformation and dramatic political polarization. Unfortunately, the only thing that can be done going forward is the education of the public to understand the manipulation that is occurring on perceivably trusted sources and to learn to question things and research on their own. The issues stemming from media manipulation of the public will be an ongoing issue in the future and major changes would have to take place in order for media platforms to be purely healthy forms of communication rather than polarizing political tools.
McLaughlin, B. (2018). Commitment to the team: Perceived conflict and political polarization. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 30(1), 41-51. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1027/1864-1105/a000176
Mikkelson, B. (2015). FACT CHECK: Does Eating Carrots Improve Your Vision? Retrieved October 21, 2018, from https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/24-carrot-eyesight/
Nelson, A. (2018). Pennsylvania State World Campus. PSYCH. 424 Applied Social Psychology. Lesson 8: Media/Communications Technology. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1942493/modules/items/25002532.
Orwell, G., & Fromm, E. (2015). 1984. NY, NY: Signet Classics.
Strandberg, T., Sivén, D., Hall, L., Johansson, P., & Pärnamets, P. (2018). False beliefs and confabulation can lead to lasting changes in political attitudes.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(9), 1382-1399. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1037/xge0000489