Incite-Ful Media

Did you ever get the feeling you were being played by someone? Wait, don’t answer yet. Allow me to explain. According to recent polls, more than 80 percent of Americans get their news primarily from social media sites these days.The stories still come from our news media (mostly) but it’s really that almost pathological need to attract Likes and clicks that is fundamentally changing the journalistic landscape.

A long time ago, I was a journalism major at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism, regarded as one of the best J-schools on Earth (and with one of the most up and down college football teams you’re ever gonna see), In these hallowed halls, I was taught how to report news clearly, accurately and WITHOUT showing bias. In fact, I remember my News 105 professor circling my news stories in red ink with the big word “BIAS” and telling me to rewrite and stop showing my cards. In those days, a journalist was supposed to report the facts, the truth and let the reader decide the outcome.

But that’s not the case anymore. Journalistic bias is evident everywhere from each journalist’s Twitter feed full of snarky comments, weird likes and snappy retorts to their actual stories and coverage where they seem to no longer trust the people with the heavy lifting of decision making and want to handle THAT part for all of us. As much as we all long for the good old days of truth, justice and the American way (not the airline), actually, there were always two schools of thought  journalism even WAY back to the 1920’s where you first start to see the profession solidified. (yes, it goes back much further but really became a business around the early 20th century)

Walter Lippman — To Lippmann, the journalist fulfilled the role of mediator, or translator, between the general public and policy-making elites. Lippmann reasoned that the public could not assess modern society’s growingly complex flurry of facts; therefore, it needed an intermediary to filter its news.  (Show no bias and do not lead people)

John Dewey — Dewey believed not only that the public was capable of understanding the issues created or responded to by the elite, but also that it was in the public forum that decisions should be made after discussion and debate. When issues were thoroughly vetted, then the best ideas would bubble to the surface. Dewey believed journalists should do more than simply pass on information. He believed they should weigh the consequences of the policies being enacted.  (It’s ok to show bias and lead people) But I think it would surprise both Lippman and Dewey to see news that appears to be actually designed to anger and upset people.

I did a bit of my own research over a 30-day-period and noticed that: Fox News pushes out stories about the “GOP,” “race,” “religion (attacks of Christianity), liberty/freedom,” and anything involving “traditional values”, etc. CNN pushes stories about “threats against the U.S.” “climate change” “social issues — drugs, bullying,” “stories about tyranny” “science scare stories”, etc. There were patterns that could I see in the feed. Now, here’s where the plot thickens. 

I did all of this with my OWN social media feed and of course, everyone’s is a bit different, so I checked using a few other feeds (not mine) and found something very interesting — the stories were NOT the same. That’s when I got it. You see, when we click on a story to read more or comment, etc, it’s logged in a file about us that Facebook keeps and uses in a very complex algorithm designed to provide us with the content we want. So when we angrily click on any story that outrages us about say, “NFL players not standing for the National Anthem,” the system thinks we want MORE of that and serves up more, which only makes us .

We ARE being played…and the villain behind it…is us! (it’s always the quiet ones). BTW — the villain is ALSO Russia who is really enjoying playing with our heads with a very focused and expensive ad and sponsored post campaign that Congress is sorting out right now.  As a pro communicator, here’s my advice to all of us — stop reacting. We have a choice of how to respond to any stimulus and among those choices is to do nothing, to not get angry, to not feel threatened and really just to move on to the next thing.

 THAT will change the feed and your world. Remember, you are creating your own little world in social media almost like a huge mirror.  And keep in mind the beast you’re feeding may not be the one you wish to face.