Mainstream and social media in politics

The recent elections in the US have shown that outcomes of elections are to a great extent determined  by who uses the media (now importantly including the social media like facebook) most cleverly and ruthlessly. Not the message but how it is presented to the people is important. Even lies will sway the electorate as long as they are presented convincingly. One could go further and say ‘exciting’ (i.e. totally unexpected) lies lend themselves more easily to swaying the public than the ‘boring’ truth. Tell the electorate that President Obama is not really American but was born in Africa or Indonesia, or that the Pope backs Trump during the election, and many will fall for it, not bothering to check the facts. Interesting in this context that the Australian public broadcaster ABC, after appointment of a new boss of ABC by the rightwing government, plans to scrap a program ‘Fact Check,’ in which statements by prominent politicians are checked for their truth. – Various commentators have drawn attention to this phenomenon in the context of the recent American elections, concentrating on social media (facebook, twitter). However, the public has been misled for a very long time by the mainstream media, which is particularly clear with regard to the politics of climate change. I and some coauthors have discussed this in the section “the societal role in combating overexploitation and climate change: information policy” in Klaus Rohde editor:  The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013. I have also discussed it in a post

On the way to fascism? Climate change and media concentration

In Australia, about two thirds of the printed media are controlled by Murdoch, who also controls much of the mainstream media in Great Britain and USA (to mention only Fox News with its pernicious influence on American politics). These media support rightwing politicians and – in Australia at least – consistently downplay the importance of climate change, making effective action to limit its impact impossible or difficult.

Would the public so easily have been swayed by social media if  they would not already have been ‘primed’ by the mainstream media, i.e., rightwing TV, radio and newspapers?

We are not dealing with some phenomenon that has at best some secondary importance, but one that is central to the functioning of democracy. The ‘West’ lauds itself for its ‘freedom’ and even went to wars to ‘defend’ it. But if a war is fought it should be against the pernicious spreading of lies and half-truths by the media, whether mainstream or social. If that war is lost, we may  well be in big trouble very soon.

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