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American Politics and the Mass Media Revolution

By Staff Writer Alyssa Karbel ‘20

· Alyssa Karbel

In an ideal world, the media would disseminate a broad range of political information and thereby enable citizens to make informed decisions during election seasons. The media would also make the political system more “transparent,” meaning that it would clarify the government’s structure, responsibilities, and actions in order to keep citizens up-to-date on important political issues.  

 

Twice since the beginning of the 20th century, new forms of technology have revolutionized political elections. In the 1920s, radios made national campaigns far more intimate, as politicians suddenly found their words broadcast directly into the homes of families. The forceful rhetoric that stirred large, partisan crowds was less appealing when piped into a living room or kitchen, and it often came across as shrill or off-putting. Franklin Roosevelt, with his “soothing fireside chat,” was the first to master this new wireless medium.

 

In the 1960s, televisions attached candidates’ voices to bodies, albeit with choppy and unforgiving close-ups. A politician’s image gained unprecedented importance, and soon politicians were more and more comparable to celebrities. John Kennedy was the first successful candidate of the TV era, but many agree that it was Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who perfected the art with their down-to-earth, but powerful, presence.

 

Recently, further technological advancements—computers, smartphones, and social media networks—are once again changing how politicians address their audiences. Once again, the tone and content of political speech are changing: in a world of instant content access and short attention spans, politicians must aim to grab and hold the attention of the fleeting public eye.

 

Through social media networks, politicians can share their views, opinions, and policy statements with voters directly and instantaneously – with little cost. “Share,” “retweet,” and other similar features cause some of these campaign messages to go viral, which further disseminates a politician’s message to people who might not have researched politics on their own. Furthermore, analytics on public responses to specific campaign messages that were broadcast through social media networks allow politicians to fine-tune their policy statements accordingly, in a timely manner.

 

So, are these changes for better or for worse?

 

Television and radio broadcasts, computer search engines, and social media networks allow citizens to stay informed about political happenings in their communities. As a result, citizens are more likely to be exposed to political issues than they were when this transmission relied on print advertisements and word-of-mouth. Additionally, citizens can utilize these different resources to gain a more complete understanding of issues that interest them.

 

But perhaps social media networks take this speed of transmission too far:  do Facebook status updates or 140 character tweets on Twitter really allow for politicians to address the vast complexities of the issues we face as a nation? As the country’s two major parties struggle to work together on key issues and subsequently blame each other for today’s disjointed Congress, this broad polarization manifests itself through social media networks.

 

Studies have shown that, on Twitter, political talk is highly partisan, as homogeneous views often determine user groupings. Many politically motivated tweets promote one-sided ideological beliefs, sometimes even linking the reader to sites with similar ideological content, as opposed to neutral news sites. Today, politically active voices – particularly younger voters – are experiencing increased political polarization: the tendency of like-minded individuals to cluster even closer together in their habits and viewpoints.

 

This could have harmful side effects. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been nicknamed a “God” of social media, for valid reasons: between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, he has over 22.7 million likes and followers, while his rival Hillary Clinton trails behind with 15 million. As a result, millions of potential voters are exposed to his highly polarized, often factually incorrect statements. Exposed only to one side of a multifaceted issue, citizens are more likely to become misleadingly biased toward a certain policy, action, or group of people.

 

Additionally, many media sources endorse such information. Did you know that the people caught on camera at political rallies – the ones holding huge, homemade signs and cheering vehemently for the candidate on stage – are often campaign workers, not “regular” citizens? And that the demographics of the people displayed on television are carefully selected by campaign managers so that the candidate can heighten his or her appeal to specific audiences?

 

Today, a candidate’s ability or inability to utilize social media networks has a staggering effect on the result of his or her campaign. This past year, many reports documented that Bernie Sanders was badly hurt by media neglect, as it hindered his ability to establish credibility and build a base of support early in the race. Similarly, many theorize that one of the main advantages Obama had over Romney was his ability to use social media networks effectively.

 

One thing is clear: whether we like it or not, social media has revolutionized the essence of our political campaigns.

 

Relevent links:

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/nov/11/best-frenemies-politicians-press

http://www.mediahelpingmedia.org/training-resources/advanced-journalism/712-the-relationship-between-journalists-and-politicians

http://www.araratonline.com/en/2015/12/the-relationship-between-media-and-politicians-essay-by-elena-chobanian/

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/09/2016-election-social-media-ruining-politics-213104

https://www.thebalance.com/how-politicians-use-media-to-win-elections-2315204

http://www.salon.com/2016/06/22/the_press_has_not_done_its_job_three_ways_the_media_has_failed_our_democracy_in_covering_the_election/

http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/internet/network-content-analyses-ideology-exposure-twitter

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2016/08/04/trump-clinton-social-media-twitter-facobook-youtube-snapchat/87974630/

In an ideal world, the media would disseminate a broad range of political information and thereby enable citizens to make informed decisions during election seasons. The media would also make the political system more “transparent,” meaning that it would clarify the government’s structure, responsibilities, and actions in order to keep citizens up-to-date on important political issues.  

Twice since the beginning of the 20th century, new forms of technology have revolutionized political elections. In the 1920s, radios made national campaigns far more intimate, as politicians suddenly found their words broadcast directly into the homes of families. The forceful rhetoric that stirred large, partisan crowds was less appealing when piped into a living room or kitchen, and it often came across as shrill or off-putting. Franklin Roosevelt, with his “soothing fireside chat,” was the first to master this new wireless medium.

In the 1960s, televisions attached candidates’ voices to bodies, albeit with choppy and unforgiving close-ups. A politician’s image gained unprecedented importance, and soon politicians were more and more comparable to celebrities. John Kennedy was the first successful candidate of the TV era, but many agree that it was Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who perfected the art with their down-to-earth, but powerful, presence.

Recently, further technological advancements—computers, smartphones, and social media networks—are once again changing how politicians address their audiences. Once again, the tone and content of political speech are changing: in a world of instant content access and short attention spans, politicians must aim to grab and hold the attention of the fleeting public eye.

Through social media networks, politicians can share their views, opinions, and policy statements with voters directly and instantaneously – with little cost. “Share,” “retweet,” and other similar features cause some of these campaign messages to go viral, which further disseminates a politician’s message to people who might not have researched politics on their own. Furthermore, analytics on public responses to specific campaign messages that were broadcast through social media networks allow politicians to fine-tune their policy statements accordingly, in a timely manner.

So, are these changes for better or for worse?

Television and radio broadcasts, computer search engines, and social media networks allow citizens to stay informed about political happenings in their communities. As a result, citizens are more likely to be exposed to political issues than they were when this transmission relied on print advertisements and word-of-mouth. Additionally, citizens can utilize these different resources to gain a more complete understanding of issues that interest them.

But perhaps social media networks take this speed of transmission too far:  do Facebook status updates or 140 character tweets on Twitter really allow for politicians to address the vast complexities of the issues we face as a nation? As the country’s two major parties struggle to work together on key issues and subsequently blame each other for today’s disjointed Congress, this broad polarization manifests itself through social media networks.

Studies have shown that, on Twitter, political talk is highly partisan, as homogeneous views often determine user groupings. Many politically motivated tweets promote one-sided ideological beliefs, sometimes even linking the reader to sites with similar ideological content, as opposed to neutral news sites. Today, politically active voices – particularly younger voters – are experiencing increased political polarization: the tendency of like-minded individuals to cluster even closer together in their habits and viewpoints.

This could have harmful side effects. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been nicknamed a “God” of social media, for valid reasons: between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, he has over 22.7 million likes and followers, while his rival Hillary Clinton trails behind with 15 million. As a result, millions of potential voters are exposed to his highly polarized, often factually incorrect statements. Exposed only to one side of a multifaceted issue, citizens are more likely to become misleadingly biased toward a certain policy, action, or group of people.

Additionally, many media sources endorse such information. Did you know that the people caught on camera at political rallies – the ones holding huge, homemade signs and cheering vehemently for the candidate on stage – are often campaign workers, not “regular” citizens? And that the demographics of the people displayed on television are carefully selected by campaign managers so that the candidate can heighten his or her appeal to specific audiences?

Today, a candidate’s ability or inability to utilize social media networks has a staggering effect on the result of his or her campaign. This past year, many reports documented that Bernie Sanders was badly hurt by media neglect, as it hindered his ability to establish credibility and build a base of support early in the race. Similarly, many theorize that one of the main advantages Obama had over Romney was his ability to use social media networks effectively.

One thing is clear: whether we like it or not, social media has revolutionized the essence of our political campaigns.

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