An exploration of Web 2.0, journalism and online news – a perspective based on bipartisan power structures, the ‘team-mentality’ and the psychology of online communities.
Speaking on Capitol Hill following her defeat to Donald J. Trump in the US Presidential election, Hillary Rodham Clinton stated that there has been an “epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year” and that it was “now clear that fake news can have real world consequences. This isn’t about politics or partisan change … It’s a danger that must be addressed, and addressed quickly” (NPR, 08 Dec, 2016).
Clinton went on to detail government plans to legislate on issues relating to ‘fake news’, specifying instances of ‘foreign propaganda’, stating:
“bipartisan legislation is making its way through congress to boost the government’s response to foreign propaganda and Silicon Valley is starting to grapple with the challenge and threat of fake news”
The notion of ‘bipartisan legislation’ above highlights a phenomena at the essence of the ‘two-party system’ in the United States. There are many who view the ‘us and them’ team-mentality that exists in political spheres as representative of an occurrences at the root of many of the global issues that have emerged in recent years relating to political systems, social movements, and beyond that, representation of the news by mainstream organisations. The two-party system has been described by many as archaic, however, the phenomena exists across a significant number of political, industrial and commercial domains. Whether ‘Republic’ or ‘Democrat’, ‘Right’ or ‘Left’, ‘Conservative’ or ‘Liberal’, ‘Coke’ or ‘Pepsi’ – the phenomena of partisan and brand favouritism has also infiltrated news organisations, e.g., ‘FOX’ vs ‘CNN’. Labelling and associating oneself with a movement or ‘group’ bares the increased risk of isolating oneself from diverse trains of thought and opinions. This phenomena can happen out of ignorance, or even out of ones willingness to conform to feel accepted by a particular group, collective or ‘side’, oftentimes demanding strict adherence to the group ‘norms’ (Dittes & Kelley, 1959). The issue of advertising and access to a diversity of information can be difficult in a Web 2.0 environment, where news-streams are user-tailed by an ever more complex system of algorithms, data-mining, and data-sharing (Yang, Dia, Cheng, & Lin, 2006). This raises issues for journalists, yes, but more importantly, it raises issues for the audience/viewer.
The team mentality and the individual pursuit.
The ‘two–party system’, often criticized by members of the public because of the lack of diverse/alternating representation associated with the structure, can also be seen when we examine the history of Irish politics and the cyclical power structure that protrudes (Fig 1.). There are more and more organisations emerging and breaking off from existing institutes to establish communities with more established, refined, and reinforced views and goals. Similarly, there are individuals who are choosing to establish websites and forums for educational/news-distribution purposes – tailored by, and for, disenfranchised individuals and collectives utilizing the digital space to communicate and organize on a scale previously impossible. Easily accessible platforms such as YouTube allow individuals to easily view or upload videos based on their own interests and offer instant access to detailed content in a marketplace where the mainstream news organisations are struggling to adapt to the disruptive change being accelerated and accentuated by social media. This requires journalists to be increasingly aware of validating sources and an importance on abilities relating to the interpretation of qualitative and quantitative data.
1937 Fianna Fáil 1938 Fianna Fáil 1943 Fianna Fáil 1944 Fianna Fáil 1948 Fine Gael 1951 Fianna Fáil 1954 Fine Gael 1957 Fianna Fáil 1961 Fianna Fáil 1965 Fianna Fáil 1969 Fianna Fáil 1973 Fine Gael 1977 Fianna Fáil 1981 Fine Gael 1982 (Feb) Fianna Fáil 1982 (Nov) Fine Gael 1987 Fianna Fáil 1989 Fianna Fáil 1992 Fianna Fáil 1994 Fine Gael 1997 Fianna Fáil 2002 Fianna Fáil 2007 Fianna Fáil 2011 Fine Gael 2016 Fine Gael
(Fig 1. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_the_Republic_of_Ireland)
Although the most recent US Presidential Election received extensive coverage by mainstream news organisations in terms of hours dedicated to the political actors involved, it is the manner by which news organisations presented and represented their coverage that is the more interesting phenomena to observe. Selective news coverage and agenda-based news dissemination can act to influence, and in some instances, dictate, public opinion – both in relation to their own brand and image as a corporation (and as representative of the wider mainstream media), and also in relation to wider social phenomena/events happening around the world that have real, tangible consequences. These consequences can oftentimes be dictated by the social atmosphere at the time, and the level by which the public is ‘informed’. This places an implied level of responsibility on those who claim to be objective distributors of the news. Similarly, the special privileges and protections offered to members of the press denotes further responsibility and consequence for nefarious actions taken. Being reliably informed in the 21st century is a difficult task to achieve if you don’t know what to look out for – and some people, quite simply don’t have the time or expertise required to adequately sources and interpret reliable, valid, data and information. Furthermore, studies have recognised that one’s own perception on issues and rationalities “unless accompanied by extensive empirical research to identify the correct auxiliary assumptions, has little power to make valid predictions about political phenomena” (Simon, 1985).
This assumption denotes an increased importance of remaining critical of news sources, and maintaining a stringent level of objective inquiry in ones required research of respective areas.If we look at power-structures at a European Level (Fig. 2), we can also another example of a two-party power distribution – despite the increased number of opposition groups that have emerged in recent years.
(Fig 2. Retrieved from http://www.euspectator.com/politics/politics-2014/)
Similar to the issues highlighted as occurring with increasing frequency in the mainstream media, members of the public have also expressed concerns that opinions beyond that which are important to the most powerful countries or groups in these international institutions, are not adequately voiced, heard, or considered, in legislative decisions affecting the broader ‘community’. Further exploration of institutions that lean toward a ‘two-party’ power-structure is extremely important – not only because the frequency of their occurrence, but because of the potential impact of decisions made at a national and international level. This is particularly relevant in light of former Secretary of Defence Hillary Clinton’s comments relating to the implementing of ‘bipartisan legislation’ against particular news sources online. These comments, combined with the levels of mass-disenfranchisement with current political and social institutions, will be interpreted by some as a threat, just as it will interpreted by others as a necessary precaution in today’s volatile global geopolitical climate (Shirky, 2011). Concerns remain that such legislative decisions are being enforced to aid and benefit those who are already in power – politically, industrially, commercially and militarily – through direct and indirect association, influence and affect. Reliability of sources and objective inquiry on the part of journalists is essential in the oversight of such institutions and activities.
The power-struggle phenomena can also be seen to exist in the European Council, Commission, Parliament and Court of Justice, among other institutions. On a more macro level, the influence of France and Germany – Hollande and Merkel – again signifies the power of individual actors and institutions when it comes to decisions effecting large collective bodies. France and Germany will play a crucial role in the maintenance of a ‘European Identity’ – even more so now that Brexit is underway. Increased access to digital content is allowing the public to become more aware of legislative decisions being made that relate to privacy, education, healthcare and terrorism. Media organisations – in their pursuit of exceeding profit margins and viewership ratings – have run the risk losing credibility if the news being interpreted as being forcibly propagated for ‘entertainment value’ or feels insincere in its delivery (pushing a particular political or social agenda). Hillary Clinton’s comments also revealed that large technological corporations are willing to work alongside government departments in order to secure and achieve national security objectives. This is where the waters muddy, further.
Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google, all represent global leaders in ‘information’ and ‘information storage’ – beyond that which is in place by tier one defences and government intelligence agencies. The amount of personal information being collected in these data centres by private corporations give them immense power, influence, and motivation for cooperative relationships and agreements with national governments – whose national legislation policies can finely dictate and impact profit margins, manufacturing costs and the architecture of product distribution networks. Other concerns highlighted in the recent US election related to the sourcing and representation of data by news organisations. The election of Donald Trump to the US Presidential Office highlight how many news organisations got their predictions incomprehensively wrong – potentially influencing the views and actions of hundreds of thousands of US voters (Fig 3 & 4).
(Fig. 3 & 4 Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com)
In this way, is not possible to talk about the ‘alternative media’ without discussing the behaviour of the more established news media organisations – the global players such as FOX, CNN, Sky, BBC and RT – and the very real response by viewers to the coverage being disseminated. News coverage and perspectives that relate to complex social issues can act to inform and spur discussion on digital/social platforms, but oftentimes, this is where the moderation ends, and the discussion boards take over. But that is, the internet.
Independent news organisations that are broadcasting online are heavily driven and influenced by the individual personalities involved – who can be very animated, entertaining, and most importantly, informed. Similar to mainstream news organisations, the question must be asked – why do they want to give you the news? Do they care for you and want you to be informed? Are they there to make money? To provide entertainment? Are they biased? Is there an agenda?
It is important to note that the pursuit of power, influence and fiscal gain is not limited to large organisations, but individual personalities online, also. The traditionally entertainment-based approach of ‘give the viewer what they want’ has seeped into the news broadcasting world, increasing the risk of confirmation bias and surface level investigation. Research by Ceron & Memoli (2015) showed that the “pro- or anti-government slant of media outlets interacts with the individual ideological views of each citizen and confirm that media act like “echo–chambers” that reinforce pre-existing attitudes”. This is an important observation for journalists to recognize, as they too can fall victim to fake news in their attempt to create content or reach deadlines. Conversely, if you’re working on FOX or CNN, it is broadly assumed by the general public that you ‘represent’ something – a particular view or a ‘side’. When you watch coverage from the two different news sources, it is easy to objectively observe this phenomena without risking the feeling of being biased yourself. Instances highlighting poor journalistic practice have been highlighted by Wikileaks email leaks that showed political actors being briefed about questions that were to be asked at public political events and debates, and even being asked for input on the questions themselves. (Wikileaks_email_5205).
Conclusion The scale of global poverty – whether fiscal, spiritual or that of individual meaning or ‘role’ – is an issue that will fail to be addressed as long as the relativity of problems are not acknowledged – as to recognise the importance of finding meaningful solutions that offer people the opportunity to feel remuneration, influence, belonging and significance. The role of the journalist in this world is one that provides communities with access to each other and to reliable information. The rise of social movements online in the form of ‘pages’ and ‘communities’ oftentimes give rise to extremist fringes – those who utilize social movement as an opportunity to express their disenfranchised outrage. Independent news organisations as well as individual personalities are utilizing platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to tremendous effect, building large, and more importantly, loyal followings – oftentimes not because their news stories are the most accurate, but rather, the audience or ‘community’ feel like they know or ‘trust’ the host enough to understand what he/she is trying to say. They feel a connection. The ability to access multiple sources online provides individuals with a fantastic opportunity to acquire reliable information whereby one can educate oneself in a variety of domains, however, the ability of the reader to distinguish whether sources are reliable, their ability to interpret data for reliability, validity and methodology, or even the practical capacity of designating time to academically research a topic, domain or social issue is quite simply not possible due to other more tangible concerns.
Ceron, A., & Memoli, V. (2015). Trust in Government and media slant: A cross-sectional analysis of media effects in twenty-seven European countries. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 20(3), 339-359.
Dittes, J. E., & Kelley, H. H. (1956). Effects of different conditions of acceptance upon conformity to group norms. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 53(1), 100.
HuffintonPost Twitter (2016, Nov 1). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/huffingtonpost/status/795663593689808896?lang=en
Jackson, N. (2016, Nov 8) Huffington Post. HuffPost Forcasts Hillary Clinton Will Win With 323 Electoral Votes. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/polls-hillary-clinton-win_us_5821074ce4b0e80b02cc2a94
Palmieri, J. (2016) Wikileaks Email 5202. Retrieved from https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/5205
Shirky, C. (2011). The political power of social media: Technology, the public sphere, and political change. Foreign affairs, 28-41.
Simon, H. A. (1985). Human nature in politics: The dialogue of psychology with political science. American Political Science Review, 79(02), 293-304.
Taylor, J. (2016, Dec 8) NRP. ‘Lives Are At Risk,’ Hillary Clinton Warns Over Fake News, ‘Pizzagate’. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2016/12/08/504881478/lives-are-at-risk-clinton-warns-over-fake-news-pizzagate
Yang, W. S., Dia, J. B., Cheng, H. C., & Lin, H. T. (2006, January). Mining social networks for targeted advertising. In System Sciences, 2006. HICSS’06. Proceedings of the 39th Annual Hawaii International Conference on (Vol. 6, pp. 137a-137a). IEEE