15 Nov 2016

Who’s Pulling Your Strings?

In my re-launch post a few weeks ago I said:

Despite the rise of social media, traditional media still exerts its control and influence over us.  It chooses what we focus on, what we overlook or ignore, and whose opinion we listen to.  We’re still pushed, pulled and coerced by it in any number of ways that we’re totally unaware of.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.  The theme of my new Work In Progress (WIP) is about who influences us and how aware of that we are. 

Last week we witnessed different news outlets spin propaganda and advance their own agendas with the US Presidential elections.  Facebook was accused of promoting fake news and affecting the result.  It became such a big issue that Mark Zuckerberg felt the need to write a response yesterday (14/11/16).

Although his focus is on fake news and hoaxes, other articles like this indicate that Facebook isn’t the provider of an unbiased comprehensive news service either.  I thought the news stories it showed me were just the most popular ones.  However, as Mark Z says in the comments section of his response, Facebook feeds you what it thinks you want based on the connections and choices you make within it:

Depending on which pages you personally follow and who your friends are, you may see more or less [fake news or hoaxes]. The power of Facebook is that you control what you see by who you choose to connect with.

What he’s inadvertently saying is that your news via Facebook is personalised and designed to suit your existing beliefs and position. 

What a disappointment!  As well as wanting to know what’s going on in the world, I read the news and other things in order to extend and challenge my current understanding of the world, not just reinforce what I already know and believe.

Don’t kid yourself that other news sources are much less biased.  Even ones who are allegedly impartial within their actual articles still choose which stories to feature and promote. True impartiality is an illusion.

When doing a Social Media module for an eCommunications degree a few years ago I had to focus on a news-worthy event over the period of several days and from a variety of perspectives.  It was the Copenhagen Climate Summit and I followed reporting in the British, Australian, American, Chinese, Indian and African press, from news outlets like AFP and Reuters, the Friends of the Earth’s blog, Twitter and the blogs/phlogs of protesters at the event.  This variety gave an amazing depth and richness to my understanding of what was going on, and observing the differences in the information and opinion that each chose to focus on was enlightening.  Studying the news in this way may be fascinating but it’s far too time-consuming to do on a daily basis!

It’s a smart idea to carefully consider the information we get, whether it’s from the news, social media, books, song lyrics, etc.  Ask yourself – what are they trying to communicate and, more importantly, WHY?  We shouldn’t passively inhale information, but question, examine and filter it.  After all, once it’s in our heads it starts to shape our thinking and our truth, even if we’re not aware of it. 

Who’s pulling your strings?  And are you happy for them to do so?


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