Undoubtedly, the news media have a tremendous influence on the social behavior of society with regards to information, communication, as well as entertainment. Paper journals, magazines, and newspapers are currently considered as old sources of media that cannot have the same impact on society the way that technologies can. To some degree, the public thinks that the current news media made the world a smaller place due to the reduction of face-to-face interactions between people and the availability of non-verbal means of communication. On the positive side, the barriers to communication that existed previously have been eliminated. On the downside, the lack of limitations associated with modern media allows for the spreading of misinformation or bullying, to which many victims of verbal abuse have been subjected.
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Social Responsibility and Information Media
Massive pressure is put on modern media to be socially responsible. If a source of information reports inaccurate information to the public (e.g., the “fake news” during the 2016 US Presidential election), then there is a possibility that the public will perceive false information as truth. Subsequently, this could lead to many problems, such as people being upset about issues that were not even true. Misinformation is a tool that could be used to destabilize the situation within a society and cause tremendous problems, so it is the job of media sources to provide the public with reliable and unbiased information on which people will make conclusions themselves.
Role of News Media in Shaping Political Opinions
As to the role of media in shaping political opinions and decision-making, the example of the US 2016 election is probably the most notable. Social platforms played a defining role in influencing the outcomes of the 2016 election. On the bright side, media have contributed to the gathering of young voters for the election and helped spread awareness of the importance of the election and the benefits of voting. On the downside, in 2016, there was a rise in the “fake news” phenomenon that disseminated unreliable information and had an adverse impact on the outcomes of the election. In this context, fake news is defined as news articles that are verifiably false and were created with the purpose of misleading the public (Alcott & Gentzkow, 2017).
The phenomenon of fake news was a powerful tool that both candidates for the position of the US president used to promote their agenda and humiliate their opponent. For example, the headline from the denverguardian.com website “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide” was a clearly fabricated story that tainted Clinton’s reputation, and this is only one example showing that the promotion of specific political opinions was done with the help of media, and the public had to make research themselves to determine whether the news was fake or not. Most importantly, fake news stories are not new and have been used for decades to mislead the public. For instance, in 1835, the New York Sun published a series of articles that described the discovery of life on the moon. Another example is more recent: in 2006, the Belgian public TV station made a report stating that the Flemish parliament had declared independence, and a significant number of the station’s viewers perceived it as the truth.
The role of news media in shaping political opinions reflects back to the notion of social responsibility to only report events truthfully. It is evident that misinformation can lead to unexpected political events and influence public opinion. Moreover, false reporting contributes to the creation of conspiracy theories with political implications. At various times during history, some Americans believed that Lyndon Johnson participated in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, that the US government had a direct influence on the 9/11 bombings, that Roosevelt knew about the Pearl Harbor events before they occurred, or that Barack Obama was born in another country (Alcott & Gentzkow, 2017). It is crucial to mention that the phenomenon of fake news emerged as the barriers to entering the industry have dropped, so anyone with a computer can set up a “news website” and write articles to push any possible agenda.
Transformation of Journalism and Media Consumption
The convergence of electronic media has made a dramatic change in journalism because new digital technologies need less time for a turnaround, so the public does not have to wait until the next day to get the morning paper and read about recent news. With modern digital technologies, news media can reach the public faster and easier. Some media outlets have a “news now” approach and report on main stories in the online regime.
Despite the fact that there are strong indicators showing that mainstream media have accepted technologies and new journalism trends, the concern over ethics and credibility remains. As discussed previously, there are some persistent challenges associated with the deliberate spreading of false information. Therefore, in the future, only those news organizations that will adapt their operations to changing technologies while adopting the essential principles of journalist writing will be able to succeed.
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Alcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211-236.