Thursday, July 30, 2020

Like Fox News, Social Media makes you dumber

The Pew Research Center has just released a study which likely confirms what many might have thought already. While the results may seem like common sense, it is very important to actually research this and make sure that "common sense" is actually true. 

Chart shows social media news users most likely to have heard conspiracy theory that pandemic was intentionally planned

The study is quite detailed and the authors go to great lengths to explain their methodology and present their evidence. Here is the authors presenting their main take away from this survey:
A new Pew Research Center analysis of surveys conducted between October 2019 and June 2020 finds that those who rely most on social media for political news stand apart from other news consumers in a number of ways. These U.S. adults, for instance, tend to be less likely than other news consumers to closely follow major news stories, such as the coronavirus outbreak and the 2020 presidential election. And, perhaps tied to that, this group also tends to be less knowledgeable about these topics.
As we can see, people who get their information from social media know less about topics than people who get information from other sources, and furthermore, people who primarily get their news from social media have a greater chance of holding false beliefs than people who get their news from other sources. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

John Oliver on Conspiracy Theories

If you spend much time on this blog, you can see that I am a big fan of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In particular, Oliver tends to do lengthy segments that are a deep dive into a particular topic. As of this posting, his most recent long segment was about conspiracy theories. While the focus was, given the current context, coronavirus conspiracies, many of the general points he makes about why conspiracy theories are popular and how to combat them are quite relevant to any conspiracy theory one might encounter.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Phil Donahue catches some flak (in 2003)

The fourth filter in Chomsky's and Herman's Propaganda Model of the Media is "flak," which is powerful criticism of the media by elites designed to limit the range of acceptable opinion and acceptable sources that are presented in the media.

Legendary Talk Show Host Phil Donahue on the Silencing of Antiwar ...

One particularly dramatic example of this occurred back in 2003 during the run-up to the second US invasion of Iraq.  At that time, Phil Donahue had the top-rated show on MSNBC. Among other things, Donahue would bring on anti-war guests and guests who raised questions and concerns about the actions of the Bush administration. At this time, MSNBC commissioned an internal study to help chart the future course of the network. As reported at the time:
The study went on to claim that Donahue presented a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war......He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." The report went on to outline a possible nightmare scenario where the show becomes "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."
As a result of this report, MSNBC went ahead and cancelled the show and fired Donahue. In effect,  MSNBC cancelled their top-rated show in order to avoid flak for not being perceived as sufficiently pro-American. As a result, the American public was denied to opportunity to hear important anti-war voices and voices skeptical of the Bush administration (voices that ensuing years have proven correct).

To add to this story, one of the people hired by MSNBC in the wake of this firing was former pro wrestler, actor, and former Governor of Minnesota, Jesse "the Body" Ventura. He was signed to a three-year contract, however, once MSNBC discovered that Ventura was anti-war, they basically paid him to do nothing for three-years. This is yet another example that illustrates how the Propaganda Model of the Media helps explain the media environment we find ourselves in.

A similar example can be found in the case of Bill Maher and his show at the time, Politically Incorrect. That story, along with a recounting of the Donahue story, some other examples, and some implications for today, can be found here.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The "Common Enemy" Filter in Action

This article in Current Affairs does an excellent job of highlighting the fifth filter in Chomsky and Herman's Propaganda Model of the Media.  In it, the author, Nathan Robinson, looks at recent reporting from the New York Times about an attempt by hackers affiliated with the Russian government to obtain information about UK and US efforts to research a vaccine for COVID-19. In his analysis, Robinson highlights how the reporting there illustrates the "Common Enemy" filter. The entire article is illuinating and worth a quick read.