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Divided and Conquered Part 4

by on August 7, 2014

Positive feedback loop with news- does it show that news reflects us?  Does it feed upon a divide?

If an alien race were to learn about our world from watching the news what conclusion would they come to?  This question reminds me of the movie “The Explorers”, a great movie for me as a kid, but one with a hidden message in it for adults.  In that movie a couple of kids build a spaceship that ends up boarding another alien ship, and on that ship they see that the aliens have a view of us that is represented by everything we put out in space via our airwaves.   They end up seeing us as a very savage race and one that is doomed to destroy each other.  I have to admit, I would probably come away with the same impression if I was subjected to only what our airwaves produced.

If we were truly as violent as our media would make a spying alien race believe, they may have a distinct fear of us and come armed to the teeth instead of coming as a peaceful ally (think about that approach for a second, let it sink in).  It is obvious that what the media puts on the news is important to shaping our view of the world.  There is evidence that if the media shows an abundance of black people in poverty, that white people will have an unfavorable view of anti-poverty programs.  There is also evidence in the same link above that the media can shape our beliefs by obscuring inter-group boundaries (reducing stereotypes) and thereby diminishing group differences, and start to build bridges, instead of destroying them.

The media does an excellent job of increasing stereotypes by specifically referring to people with certain labels, especially those politicians with “D’s” and “R’s” next to their names.  Thus whenever a negative report comes out on a certain political party member that negative impression creates a boundary and it is slung onto the party itself.  Do we do this in team sports?  Why do we do this with our political parties?   When Ray Rice was seen beating his wife, did that automatically taint the image of the football team (assuming we leave out the team PR reaction on this)?  Or was the reputation of only Ray Rice effected?  I am trying to draw up some reasoning as to why it is important for media to slow down on the automatic labeling and simply refer to the person who was guilty of some crime or infraction or morally ambiguous behavior, or supporting a certain policy.  It is the individual we should hold responsible and not the entire party, unless of course the entire party is guilty in that matter.

This constant barrage of negative news does lead to what psychologists refer to as a “feedback loop”, where a systems outputs (media messaging) are fed back into its inputs (humans).  It is an effective marketing technique to keep people watching and confirming a bias, and continually buying a product.  This obviously will have an effect on public opinion and can create a larger political divide in this country.

So with the evidence that the media feeds on this divide that we have, we must acknowledge that it doesn’t really reflect society.  Our media should adapt a certain responsibility and a certain professional code not just to capture audiences (the profit motive), but to also have a social responsibility to keep us more informed and more balanced in news (the non-profit motive).   How do we do this?  I am not so sure how, but it is something I want to explore in future posts.

So let’s ask ourselves this question:  Do we want aliens to come at us armed to the teeth?  Or do we want them to come at us looking to share ideas, thoughts and technology, knowing we are a race that works together?  I know it is a lot to ask but let’s turn off those cable news networks, let’s not be divisive and combative in our politics, and let’s work together to come to an understanding.



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