The Power of the Media Revisited
Writers play a significant role in the dissemination of information on the Internet because they have the power to influence beliefs. Writers have an obligation to act ethically because they are in a position of influence. Additionally, readers have an obligation to question the validity of content found on the Internet.
Media Use and Influence Revisited
Examining my media use and the influence media has me in week one was a thought-provoking experience. Before this course, I was unaware of how much I depended on non-journalists sources for information. According to Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010), “A third of Americans now get news recommended to them from non-journalists they follow on social networks” (p. 171). Almost all of my news comes from links sent by my friends on social network sites, and that frames my worldview. Regardless of the source, media is an integral part of my life so I continue to investigate and analyze what I find on the Internet.
Beliefs, Ethics, and Danger
The Internet is an open playing field for anyone with a computer and an ISP to disseminate information on any subject to a potentially limitless audience. Ethical writers contribute quality information while unethical writers affirm personal bias. Writers need to hold themselves accountable for what is published under their name even if the content creates cognitive dissonance. West and Turner state (2004), “Cognitive Dissonance Theory suggests that people do not enjoy inconsistencies in their thoughts and beliefs. Instead, they seek consistency” (p. 122). Unethical writers, whether intentionally unethical or unaware, communicate in echo chambers to people with like-minded views because the dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable.
Acting ethically on the Internet through writing is necessary for distributing truthful and factual information. Shooting fish in a barrel is both easy and unethical. Affirming beliefs by distributing inaccurate and unvetted information appeals to preconceived ideas of an audience, which a writer can easily target the loyalty of an audience for marketing and subsequent profit (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010). In a minor sense, inaccurate, untruthful, or unquestioned information might cause confusion, the loss of a few dollars, or might cause serious harm such as injury or death.
In June 2015, various news sources reported that Bristol Palin, the daughter of former governor Sarah Palin was pregnant. A blog post stated that she was disappointed with this and linked her pregnancy with her activities as a paid abstinence educator (Mercedes Lara, 2015). The dissemination of inaccurate information likely caused a lot of grief in the Palin family. However, in more serious situation a boy died as a result inaccurate and untruthful information. In May 2015, an unvaccinated boy in Spain was admitted to a hospital suffering from diphtheria and subsequently died in June 2015.
The boy’s parents felt “terribly guilty” and that they had been “tricked” by anti-vaccine groups who convinced them not to vaccinate their son, the public health secretary in Catalonia said during a press conference on June 5 (The Spain Report Writers, 2015, para. 5).
Although limited information about the parents and boy is available, anti-vaccination information is easily distributed online where parents have the opportunity to interact with each other. I suspect that when the parents and Spanish officials release more information, anti-vaccine literature found online will likely be named as sources the Spanish parents used to make decisions for their son.
Influence of Media Literacy
Becoming media literate is critical to understanding the volume of information a person encounters on the Internet. Making sense of information is a skill Kovach and Rosenstiel identify as a component of Next Journalism. “When information is in great supply, knowledge becomes harder to create, because we have to sift through more data to arrive at it. Confusion and uncertainty are more likely” (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010, p. 176). Narrow and affirming writing influences people but this is a false sense of knowledge even if the information provides security and comfort. The evolution of Journalism of Verification is critical for facts, truth, and transparent information to be distributed to an audience. Recognizing that readers want to engage in the process as well as the outcome is necessary for creating a media literate audience.
In ten short weeks, I have learned valuable information about dissecting knowledge found on the Internet. My ideas about knowledge production have changed because I have developed a better sense of awareness regarding the different types of information presented on the Internet. I strive to demonstrate advanced media literacy skills while conveying messages that reflect the ethics in journalism. As I continue with my education, this course in knowledge and new media has provided a solid foundation for me to develop my professional and educational goals.
Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T., (2010). Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload. New York: Bloomsbury.
Mercedes Lara, M., (2015, June 28). Bristol Palin Responds to the Haters: My ‘Pregnancy Was Actually Planned’. People Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.people.com/article/bristol-palin-pregnancy-planned
The Spain Report Writers. (2015, June 27). Six Year Old Boy With Diphtheria In Catalonia Dies. The Spain Report. Retrieved from https://www.thespainreport.com/16953/six-year-old-boy-with-diphtheria-in-catalonia-dies/
West, R., & Turner, L. (2004). Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.