A creature with questionable, even nefarious motives. A creature whose tentacles reach across the globe. A creature capable of wielding its power over every sect of society.
Or at least, that’s how some people see mass media.
Media researchers have long been interested in the effects of mediated messages. These researchers once asked, “Are audience members vulnerable sponges, passively soaking up the information around them?” The answer was a resounding, “No.” It turns out audience members are active participants in media consumption. They seek media to satisfy their unique desires and interpret that media in their own way.
But while researchers have moved past the old hypodermic needle model of media effects, there is growing evidence that the public has not. The “mass” part of mass media can be unsettling for audience members. Aware that a message they’re seeing is not just meant for their-eyes-only, these audience members often think, “This message is really going to impact other people who see it.”
Everyday examples are easy to find. I stumble across them all the time online, where the comments section is often a chorus of folks concerned with misperceptions that may arise from inaccurate or misleading media messages. The slideshow shows a few examples:
Critiques of media and concern about media effects are age-old worries that emerge with each technological advancement. Television. Video games. Social media. There is a long history of scholarship looking at how all sorts of media impact the audience, but a much shorter history of considering that – even when messages do not substantially affect people – the perception that media pack a powerful, persuasive punch is very real.