Ever since mass media came into fruition, politicalelections and the political climate have been impacted, in both positive andnegative ways. The hypodermic needle theory, for example, explains thatinformation is quite literally “shot” into the minds of audiences through themedia, and this idea was widely believed during the 1920’s. Media has evolved,though, and this has led to new theories on how it can alter what people believe.
When media was comprised of newspapers and the radio, it was very easy forpublished stories to be manipulated and controlled by political officials, sothe public could quite readily be led to believe one opinion over another.However, mass media has evolved over the past century to the point where it nolonger has a monopoly from any one mode of transmission- instead, “the media”is a very loose term used to describe social media, newspapers, magazines,television, the radio, news sites, and many more. And, because of itswide-ranging capabilities, “the media” is a giant that allows people from allsocial standings and all backgrounds to voice their opinions to whomever willlisten, read, or watch.
All people have the ability to absorb any information,just as all people have the ability to emit any information, and this hasdrastically changed the interaction of American politics and the media. In recent years, the increase in speed of the media hasgreatly impacted politics, and this change has enabled a confirmation biasamong voters, as well as allowing both the public and elected officials to makemuch more informed decisions on behalf of the country. As mass media hasevolved in American society, its impact on politics has become increasinglybeneficial, which is portrayed by the facilitated relationship between thepublic and elected officials. Socialmedia has been gradually turning toward younger generations ever since itsintroduction into American Society. Socialmedia is targeted toward younger generations because these are the people whogrew up with it, so they are able to use it in a beneficial way. Moreover, inrecent years, social media has become a platform for politicians to campaign,gain support for their ideas, and take notice of what citizens want from apolitical candidate. The use of social media to connect to voters and Americancitizens was first introduced during the 2008 presidential election betweenBarack Obama and John McCain. Obama is known as the “Facebook president”because at the time of his election, the only major social networking site wasFacebook, and Obama was the first to introduce it to the world of politics.
Thesite was utilized to rally to voters and even to raise funds for his campaign,but its most significant contribution was its allowance of a presidentialcandidate to maintain a relationship with, and understand the minds of, potentialsupporters. After winning the election, Obama delved even more deeply intosocial networking sites, forming profiles on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, andmore, because it was the connection to citizens that brought him thepresidency, so it was a connection to citizens that would bring change to thecountry. Throughout his two terms, Obama maintained his online presence andbrought American citizens, specifically young people, even closer to thedecision-making aspect of the presidency. In broad terms, Barack Obama’sentrance into the world of social networking allowed young citizens to becomemuch more interested in politics, because they began to realize that they couldhave a lasting impact on their country simply through voicing their opinions onsocial media. This newfound involvement for young people would continue beyondthe presidency of Barack Obama, and it would later change the way that thepresident interacts with citizens and the country. Social media has reachedbeyond simply allowing a presidential candidate to interact with voters, and ithas gradually become a driving force behind the outcomes in politicalelections. Social media, in comparison to serious news websites, allowpeople to control what type of news appears on their feed, and it allows themto receive a constant influx of that news.
On social networking sites, peoplesystematically fill their feed with news that supports their own opinions andbeliefs. Though this is true in real life as well, the addition of social mediastrengthens the confirmation bias in interacting with friends andacquaintances. The links to news articles that people click on are rarelycontradictory to their previous opinions, so people are commonly led to believethat these are the facts. This confirmation bias plays an important role forvoters, because they become so adamant about their candidate’s ability to winthat they don’t even consider an alternative outcome, even if it may be abetter choice. Social media is the perfect platform for politics because of itsability to gain information on a demographic and target certain articles towardcertain groups of people. Social networking sites gather details about a personfrom the pages that they follow, their likes, and their posts, and the sitesuse this information to find articles that will appeal to that person inparticular.
Voters are surrounded by material that they are already inclined toagree with because of the freedom that comes with social media, and this addsto a confirmation bias. The internet gathers information about the opinions ofpeople, and this information may not always be entirely fact-based. An important part of social media that has begun to controland guide elections is the speed and manner in which polls are conducted.Though polls have been used in American politics since the 1950’s, social mediahas allowed them to become much more widespread, and while increasing thenumber of poll results can be very useful in predicting who will win apresidency, it can also lead to very misleading numbers. Contradictory pollscan sometimes be found on the exact same day, which leads to a question ofwhether or not they are truly factual, or if sometimes they may be flawed. And,if a poll is flawed, voters can be greatly impacted because of theself-fulfilling prophecy that comes along with predictions for an election.
Forexample, if a voter believes a candidate is going to lose because of afalsified poll, they may even opt out of voting, simply because they believethe candidate will lose anyway. Social media has begun to take over politicsand political elections because of its allowance of people to become moreinvolved in an election. Aside from social media, though, all internet-basedmedia in recent years has strengthened its ability to guide elections and thedecisions made in politics. Though news media has become almost strictly internet-basedin recent years, the role of media in politics has always been evolving. Theintroduction of new forms of news media always have lasting effects onpolitics- take, for example, Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” over theradio during the Great Depression, which were used to instill hope into theminds of American citizens. Though radio had never been used in politics insuch an impactful way, Roosevelt was able to pave the way for future presidentsto use the medium as well. And, in recent years, the internet has become thenewest form of news media. Just as forms of media have changed over time, themore general impact of the media has also changed, creating a new environmentfor politics and news. It was first understood that media (newspapers,magazines, radio, and more) had the ability to provide information to”receivers,” or an audience, and that information would be wholly and readilyaccepted. This idea is explained by the hypodermic needle theory, firstintroduced in the 1920s by Walter Lippmann.
However, as media evolved and theunderstanding of it expanded, people began to theorize that audiences are relativelyactive in their consumption of media, and perhaps the effects of media andpropaganda on a person’s opinions are minimal. This idea gave more credit tothe previous knowledge of audiences, because it was believed that if a personwas aware that a media source was trying to convince them of something, theywould consider the factual evidence before forming an opinion. The minimaleffects theory was introduced between the 1940s and 1960s, and it brought aboutthe idea that only politically active people pay close attention to the newscoverage of politics, which was largely contradictory to the hypodermic needletheory and all that it entailed. One of the more recent theories of media andits effects on audiences, though, explains that media presents a sort of”perceived reality” for an audience. Television, as theorized, can transform adiverse, heterogeneous population into a group of people that all view, andtherefore believe in, the same general principles. This cultivation theory wasintroduced in the 1970s by G. Gerbner, who stated that no one person or groupof people “can maintain an independent integrity” in a world with televisionand other forms of media. As psychologists have transformed their means ofconsidering media’s impact on society and politics, journalists havetransformed their means of getting information to an audience through, inrecent years, internet-based news.
News media and its tendency to be almost exclusively internet-basedhas expanded its ability to transform how people consider politics. In contrastwith past mediums for media, the integration of the internet has begun tochange how news is presented to an audience. For example, the coverage frommedia has evolved more so into an analysis of events than a reporting ofevents. Whereas in the past, sound bites from presidential debates, speeches,and interviews were usually used to illustrate a fact presented in an article,sound bites are now much shorter to be used to alter what was truly said by thecandidate. With these shorter sound bites, a journalist may frame an article toanalyze what was intended in a speech, rather than summarizing what was trulystated.
This movement from reporting to analysis, though it can be consideredharmful, has allowed broad audiences to consider points of view that may notalign with their own, and it has therefore expanded general knowledge toinclude information beyond just opinions. Moreover, the presidential electionof 1992 created a phenomenon known informally as the “bubble,” in which mediacontent was controlled by George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, through limitingphoto opportunities and interviews to rallies and campaign venues. This controlforced articles to become more like advertising than journalism, which is whyall campaigns afterward attempted to focus more on a presentation of allinformation, whether the candidates agreed with it or not. Since this election,the increase in use of the internet has prevented a control by candidates,because the American public has almost total freedom in expressing opinions andconsuming information. Internet-based news media allows for people to considerfacts and opinions beyond their own and beyond those of the presidential candidates,because the internet moves too quickly for any one person or group of people toretain control of its contents. Theevolution of mass media has greatly altered how America deals with politics andpolitical campaigns because the internet allows for a whole world ofinformation in an instant, for both political officials and citizens, in a waythat no other form of media ever has.
This availability of knowledge allows forgovernmental officials to cater to the needs of the public, and it allows the publicto decide who will govern the country. While the impact of a mass amount ofinformation may lead to a confirmation bias and a falsified sense of completeknowledge among many people, it can also allow for a deeper and more beneficialrelationship between the American public and the government, and thisrelationship has been made possible because of the integration ofinternet-based media into society.