The Media

For centuries, the media has been a tool to inform as well as a means of keeping people, such as politicians and business leaders, accountable. Lately the media, and particularly the social media, have changed both their purpose and their techniques. Our digital era has both altered and empowered media in ways that was never before possible. The result has been detrimental to us all.

  1. Speed has taken precedence over fact-checking. It’s more important to be the first to report than to report truthfully.[1] Corrections could be made later, but most don’t bother. There will always be another story to rush to the public. Previous stories and previous mistakes can be ignored, making the assumption that people’s memories are short and people are easily distractable.
  2. Brevity has taken precedence over accuracy. Media are often not interested in a full sentence, let alone a full thought. People (and editors) want the verbal punch, so words are edited to give an idea (which is not necessarily even the speaker’s idea) in as short a time as possible.
  3. The sound bite has taken precedence over understanding. The idea is no longer to bring the reader to place of understanding, but only to secure an emotional reaction. Editors want response, not necessarily comprehension. Ratings follow responses.
  4. Divisiveness has taken precedence over broadness. The algorithms of social media are specifically designed to feed you more of the same content they observe you reading. You will get your position only, and not the other side of the argument or thoughts. Not only that, you will get more and more extreme versions of your position. Social media is destroying public discourse, social conversation, and broadness of thought.
  5. Skimming has taken precedence over learning. Why should someone read an entire article when they are just skimming for a sentence that confirms what they already think? 

The results of these trends are simply disastrous for democracy, learning, and discourse.

  1. Media now takes the position of a vortex of propaganda. Very few media outlets care to be objective any more. They are there to push a worldview and a viewpoint.
  2. People are more abusive with their language on social media than they would ever be in person. We now live in an age of derogatory talk.
  3. Decline of public discourse. Tolerance of thought and freedom of speech have suffered possibly fatal wounds.
  4. These shifts contribute to social instability. Our democracy, along with social civility, are on the cliff’s edge of being lost.

One of the most often referenced quotes of the past is that of Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message.” I think our Postmodern Neo-Enlightenment thinking has altered and superseded that truth. It’s very possible that the light of the Age of Reason has been extinguished, and the new “truth” is “The medium mandates who is master.” The media now goads and deludes with intentional falsification and is consistently inconsistent in the perpetration of a self-defeating ideology. No matter. Doubt makes people vulnerable and information can be used to create chaos and confusion, which can make people more susceptible to being led. Shutting down opposing viewpoints and controlling information is where the true power lies today. True power in today’s world comes in controlling what people think.

Instead of letting media control both our information and therefore us as people, our weapons against it are suspicion, intelligence, courage, and goodness. For every detrimental power, there is a greater and opposite power of goodness, truth, and love. Our future depends on good and smart people standing against the wiles of modern media. They cannot succeed if no one falls for the agenda they’re pushing.

[1] For instance, on 4/21/202, NPR published an article about a black girl shot by white police, but also wrote shooting story “may be inaccurate. Some facts reported…may later turn to be wrong.”

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