In this guest post George Von Waidkuns reflects about the role of the mass media in the creation of public opinion, and the interaction with the social media in terms of political and socio-cultural issues.
Generally, it can be said that mass media plays an important role in the creation of public opinion. Recent studies show that there is a close relationship between mass media and social control.
“The mechanism of control generally exercised by media proprietors is through the appointment of editors, ‘who become the proprietor’s “voice” within the newsroom, ensuring that journalistic “independence” conforms to the preferred editorial line’ (McNair). The power of the media is not just in its editorial line but also in covering some issues rather than others, some views but not others. It is this power that makes politicians so reluctant to cross the large media moguls and regulate the industry in the public interest. So while politicians would like to regulate against concentration of media ownership they are not as tough as they would like to be on this score.
Like earlier periods in the history of mass media communication the rise of radio, and then television, the birth of the Internet era has generated extensive speculation about the potential consequences of this development for older news media, for political campaigns, and for civic society.
As the Internet has taken off, research has explored the consequences for parties, candidates and election campaigns; for new social movements, interest groups and organizational activism; and for the policymaking process and governing in an information age.
We are witnessing a clear competition between mass media and social media in the creation of public opinion and public direct participation in political and social issues.
Mass Media and Social Control
The impact of the mass media on the consumers’ mind cannot be ignored; television, radio and newspapers make this by imposing social trends, informing, forming and misinforming the political opinion of the masses.
According to recent researches we can affirm that the mass media manipulates the mind of its consumers by using subliminal advertising and other techniques serving in the creation of public opinion and their political opinion. Mass media controls the political opinion of the masses constituting by this an invisible “government” of the “democratic” societies.
In essence public opinion is created by mass communication media and as a result of it most people delegates their own vision of the political reality to what the mass media is imposing on them. We are not thinking, the mass media think for us. We are not what we think; we are what they think we are.
Government and Control of Public Opinion, the Australian Case: Public Servants Banned from Political Opinion
The current Australian government threatened its public servants with disciplinary measures including dismissals if they make comments or if they express political opinion on social media.
The government is prepared to spend more than $4.2M to control social media and investigate cases where political opinion is adverse. This is a clear invasion of privacy and a restriction of freedom of speech.
An Australian renown academic, John Lord, said “the government could save that money by asking for my phone number straight away”.
Social Media and Participation
One of the most relevant characteristics of social media is the direct and instant participation of users in the political, social and economical reality. Users are exercising real power by interacting through online comments, blogs and publication of articles on independent websites.
The online participation of common citizens in the social and political issues, balance or to some extent neutralise the power of old means of mass communication, because citizens are now not passive spectators of reality but part of it. Citizens did not have the right to exercise their power by expressing their opinion on social issues. On the contrary they were selectively ignored by mass media.
People today extensively are losing faith in the mass media because they can test reality by their own means online. People are becoming part of reality rather than mere viewers.
Social Media and Hope
There are many hopes and fears surrounding the “virtual” democracy in the emerging of the Internet Age. Much debate revolves around whether the distinctive structure and interactive format of the Internet will provide a genuinely new form of political mobilization, enticing the dissent into public life, producing a more egalitarian democracy, or whether its primary function will be to reinforce those who are already most active through conventional channels like social organizations, community groups and parties.
We believe that public participation on social media is making a more authentic democracy as people can express their political views in a direct way and by making it public.
Social Media and the Church
In front if this new reality, even the Catholic Church has been giving green light to social media, Pope Francis recently confirmed it:
“The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all”.“Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church? Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.”
In view of the presented above, social media with the participation of citizens in the social and political reality constitutes a new cultural phenomenon which challenges the other reality presented by the mass media. It is time then to see our socio-political reality in a new way, perhaps in a more democratic and truthful way, free from manipulation.