Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jan 13, 2014 in Skepticism and Science | 4 comments

Media doesn’t manipulate people

As a journalist I struggle with widespread misconceptions about how the media and communication work almost on a daily basis. One of the most popular and pervasive ones is the blame the media hypothesis: supposedly, mass media manipulates people into thinking and doing what the big media corporations want.

Not only there’s no evidence to support such claims, but all the evidence there is surrounding the way communication works (or at least, all the evidence I have come across) renders those claims false.

I am unaware about how far-flung this conspiracy theory is in Anglo-Saxon countries, but it is quite common in Latin America, so I was thrilled to see it being debunked in Bryan Caplan‘s The Myth of the Rational Voter:

But the “blame the media” hypothesis has serious flaws. First, the writings of the classical economists show that most economic biases were popular before newspapers and periodicals were widely read. People are plainly able to form foolish beliefs about economics without journalists’ assistance. Second, uninformative content does not sway rational voters. They discount biased information – especially if they flagrantly rely on logical fallacies like “proof by repetition”. The media can therefore be no more than a catalyst for the public’s preexisting cognitive flaws.

For pseudoinformation to work as intended, voters need to be not only irrational, but irrational in the right way. The simplest of these is overconfidence in the reliability of the media. Imagine an audience puts blind faith in Bill O’Reilly. Its gullibility allows O’Reilly to remake his audience in his own image. If he wanted to transform their faith into personal riches, he could “rent out” the support of his drones to the highest bidder. O’Reilly’s influence naturally falls short of this extreme, but there is a continuum from full rationality to utter fanaticism.

Is good to see someone addressing this gratuitous affirmation. Neither the media, nor video games are responsible for our thoughts and actions.

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    If someone wanted to demonstrate that some mass media outlets do indeed manipulate people into thinking and doing what they want, what sort of confirmatory evidence would you deem acceptable?

  • Phasespace

    Hmmm… I don’t necessarily disagree, or, at the least, I’d agree that “blaming the media” is an oversimplification, but then there are incidents like this: http://bit.ly/1bKEjGh

    Certainly Bill O’Reilly has never suggested that Christians should assault store clerks or Salvation Army bell ringers for saying Happy Holidays. On the other hand, would this incident have happened if O’Reilly and company didn’t ratchet up the agit prop every holiday season? I’m not so sure.

    At a minimum, the statement that there is “no evidence to support such claims,” is a pretty dodgy statement.

    • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Ðavid A. Osorio S

      That’s how hate speech works. But it feeds on preexisting cognitive flaws.

  • Pingback: Censorship & pseudo-feminism | Avant Garde()