The Medium Makes the Message and Currently it is Extreme Partisanship and Misinformation

By: Bryce Greer

I am going to break the “rules” slightly by pointing to the recent news this weekend of Fox News being sued for $1.6 billion by Dominion Voting Systems over false election claims. Furthermore, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted his website contributed to Capitol Riots as Congress presses Big Tech CEOs over misinformation on their platforms. These examples continue to highlight the significance of this week’s readings, understanding how both legacy media (seen with Fox) and social media (i.e., Twitter) have come to contribute to the growing partisanship in liberal democracy as well as the rise of populism in recent years.

The medium indeed makes the message, and right now that message is advocating extreme partisanship through mainstream media alongside the growing misinformation allowed by the unopposed Big Tech platforms of social media. Des Freedman’s article this week traces this argument quite well, noting how the rise of populism has come from the populist’s effective use of media to push their rhetoric. Although, Freedman also notes a significant anecdote on the compliancy of prestigious mainstream journalism as another factor in the failures of media. The two examples given on Trump’s winning of the election in 2016 and of Brexit’s acceptance showed how mainstream media’s aghast reception to these events revealed their failure in covering nonpartisan news that reflects all views of citizens.

Freedman’s article as it explains the many failures of media, notably how it has shifted to sensationalist stories that expand polarization and allow an indirect (and oftentimes direct) platform for populists, has therefore brought a centralized media network. This, connected alongside the unopposed Big Tech corporations, has placed information outside the hands of the independent media networks that can return to a nonpartisan approach to journalism. The conclusion Freedman argues, may be seen with the European Commission’s proposal for the Digital Services Act, which attempts to regulate larger platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc. but also allow for the growth of smaller independent start ups.

The Digital Services Act, however, I am not so sure of its potential success. Referring to Johannes von Moltke’s lecture on how “the Meme is the Message,” I think as much as democracy can try and regulate platforms and media, this does not accurately handle the local contexts. While platforms can certainly give voices to populists in a problematic and explicit way, smaller platforms like 4-chan, which would continue to likely sit under the radar of government, reveal misinformation like von Molke’s examination of cultural Marxism as exemplified through memes. Tess Slavickova’s and Peter Zvagulis’ paper, although a part of legacy media, also reveals how specific word plays and omission of perspectives can account for misinformation, and this is equally applicable to the local context of memes spread through small networks.

Ultimately in the end, then, there is a limit to the actions that can be done to prevent populism from rising, and as much as the platform can be regulated, there will always be a way for misinformation in the local context to be spread on smaller less regulated platforms. Perhaps regulation can prevent mainstream misinformation, and that would be utopian, but I would argue that perhaps we have allowed the Medium’s current message to be unresolved for too long. This compliancy has left us in a precarious and possibly unfixable state.

References:

Tess Slavíčková and Peter Zvagulis. “Monitoring Anti-Minority Rhetoric in the Czech Print Media: A Critical Discourse Analysis.” Journal of Language & Politics, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 152–170

D. Freedman, “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication 33 (6) (2018): 604-618

Digital Services Act – EU https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_2347


Johannes von Moltke, “The Meme is the Message” Freie Universität Berlin lecture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7e7lSGlSWs

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