Every good Millennial knows of the power social media holds. Everything, from current events to social attitudes, is affected by what we see. With the emergence of social media platforms, we connect with people from all different backgrounds, countries, and cultures. Many of us are used to having the ability to connect with so many people, but rarely do we stop to think about the effects of communication and what drives it.
Numerous studies have occurred since social media and its use exploded. Many sources say it is detrimental to our physical or mental health or claim we have stopped connecting with people in real life. What really intrigues me is how easily people forget that media has been around for centuries. In one way or another, there have always been ways of sharing information across the world. Newspapers, religious texts, and even statues and other forms of art have operated as forms of communication. Audiences have changed throughout history, but the effects of sharing information have stayed the same.
When information is shared, there is an instant in which everything is up in the air. There is no interpretation and no reciprocation. A poster on a wall accomplishes nothing until it is seen. A statue has no value until someone gives it context. A newspaper is just words on paper. Until it has an audience, a message means nothing.
Who receives the message is just as important as the message itself. Effectively communicating an idea requires connecting with the proper audience. For instance, trying to convince the NRA that rifles are unnecessary is pointless. Knowing who receives the message affects how they receive the message, if they receive it at all. A middle aged audience member will interpret the social practices of modern day dating differently than a six-year-old. Audiences are separated by age, gender, academic achievement, economic class, race or ethnicity, sexuality, occupation, and more. Understanding who the intended audience is can show what the message itself is intended for.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to determine is which messages are easily found and which are hidden. Currently, stories on racial tensions and violence are everywhere. People are writing about the social situations that have led to the conflict, and news stories about the conflict are broadcast on a nearly daily basis. People continuously share articles about their experiences growing up identifying as one race or another. But no one will tell you that one of the largest prison strikes in history is occurring all across the country. Major news outlets have failed to report the protest over inadequate health care, living conditions, and forced labor. I haven’t seen a single video on Facebook or blurb on Twitter since the demonstration started in early September.
So why, with all of the power of media, has this issue gone almost unnoticed? The short answer: our culture doesn’t care about “convicts.” We are conditioned to ignore the problems of “guilty prisoners.” We live in a society that privileges certain demographics. Cultural values also play a part in the absence in media coverage of the protest. In the land of opportunity, we have little sympathy for those who have thrown their opportunities away—or so the courts tell us. We listen to the news, but rarely do we search for it. We assume what is given to us in a thirty-minute news cast is the entirety of what is happening in the world, and that allows for other “less important” events to slip through the cracks.
Oddly enough, what we think is important and respond to derives from conditioned behavior. Depictions of political landscapes, local and international conflicts, and social behavior are shaped by what we see. The more we see same-sex couples getting married, the more we think marriage equality is normal. The less we see conditions of prisoners, the less we care about them. Through simple conditioning, we come to understand how we fit into the world. We absorb the values of our culture and ascribe to certain ideas and beliefs based on what we are conditioned to think. This has been done throughout history, albeit differently as time has gone by. Julius Caesar used statues as a way to show his success. Napoleon had paintings made of his military prowess. Captain America was used as a conduit to fight the Nazis in the 40’s. Even now, movies and stories are used to shape how we think about the conflict in the Middle East, racial violence, and privilege.
So what does this mean for us, a group of nine students at Simpson College, learning about editing and publishing? It means we need to recognize our power as the “shapers of the message.” It means we need to seek to give voice to the overlooked happenings in our world. It means we need to talk about the protests over the prison system and the Dakota Access Pipeline and give less media attention to Trump’s latest stupid remark.
The power of media no longer lies with the conglomerates who own the newspapers and control the televised broadcasts. The power of media, thanks to social media, lies with us. As we are trained as editors, we are trained in the power of media to keep the status quo constant, to cause harm, or to work for the good of the many—rather than the good of the few.
--Kat McCaffery, '17