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Media manipulation and how to protect yourself

Media manipulation is widespread. Understand how the media use stereotypes, boogeymen and biases to protect yourself.

I haven’t owned a TV since 2009.

I’ve never watched one episode of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or House of Cards.

I can’t tell you what the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films are about, other than one’s a kid wizard and the other is about small people.

For a long while I’ve sought news, information and entertainment from the internet instead of TV, print or radio.

I’ll watch the odd TV show on occasion but my concentration span is shot. The internet has rewired my brain so much that sitting down for hours and passively watching TV is borderline unbearable.

I know I’m missing out on some good TV shows. The quality, I’m told, has increased tenfold over the last few years.

One day I may go on a Netflix binge but watching TV, to me, is passive escapism and I have better things to do with my time.

I have never shunned watching television or mainstream media in general for any moral reason. The impulse is more natural for me to gravitate to the dynamic world wide web where I can click, read, watch, search and interact.

I watch YouTube instead of television. Listen to podcasts instead of radio. Read blogs and alternate news sources as well as national newspapers.

I either choose to consume content or I’m recommended it from people I like, respect and follow.

When you get your news and information from different sources it can change your view on events. It helps you see alternative perspectives and views.

You realise there are different sides to a story, life is nuanced and often there is no identifiable good or evil in a situation.

Take Brexit. Although I work in London among the middle-class liberal media, I’m still in touch with my working class mates up north. There is stark contrast between both parties’ view of the UK leaving the EU and I got to see it from both sides.

 

If you got all your news and opinions on Brexit reading Twitter and most national newspapers you would have believed that the Remain camp would win by a landslide. Voters on both sides were surprised at the result.

If you read about Brexit only in the national newspapers and Twitter you would have assumed that the Remain camp would win by a landslide.

That’s why you have to try and see as much of the full picture as possible and that’s where the internet helps.

For many years the media has presented us with one side of the story. In the UK you can usually tell which side of the political spectrum a news outlet is on. Even then, oftentimes both sides project the same biased view to a story.

In the information age you can protect yourself from being manipulated by the mainstream media.

Is all mainstream media bad? Hell no. There is lots of interesting and informative content created by the mainstream media daily. In-depth documentaries, global news reporting, movies that make you think deeply and so on.

Though biased, the media in general is a force for good. The opportunity we have now with social media is to get a better understanding of the truth.

Most media are biased

When you read, listen or watch a story in any kind of media realise that there will be a biased slant to it. Based on either the person writing it or the political leaning of the publication.

If it’s a left wing publication there will be a left-wing slant to it and same for right-wing.

This is stating the obvious to some, but a lot of people still believe that national media just report unbiased facts. Look at the angle the left wing Guardian takes to a story compared to the right wing Telegraph. You’ll see a stark contrast in difference especially when it comes to politics.

When researching a story get the view from all sides and draw your own conclusion.

Learn cognitive biases

Why are the main stories in mainstream news predominantly bad?

Some believe it’s to manipulate the masses so they’re easy controlled. There’s some truth in that.

It’s also because we have a bias towards negative news. It’s called negativity bias and in James Altucher’s book, Reinvent Yourself he covers it in one of the chapters.

“[We] have a bias towards noticing negative news over positive news. The reason is simple: if you were in the jungle and you saw a lion to your right and an apple tree to your left, you would best ignore the apple tree and run as fast as possible away from the lion. This is called ‘negativity bias’ and it’s the entire reason newspapers still survive – by very explicitly exploiting this bias in humans.”

Research has shown people are more likely to share negative and positive news in social media. The emotions they feel from negative news create more of an impulse to share. It’s also because they know they’ll get more a response from fellow outraged followers.

Pope Francis said, “The media only writes about the sinners and the scandals, but that’s normal, because a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows.”

See TV for what it is

The average American watches five hours of TV a day. In a year that’s 1,825 hours or 76 days or almost 11 full weeks.

That’s a lot of TV and a lot of manipulation. Is it any wonder people believe what they see on TV, they’re so ingrained in that world.

If you’re going to watch TV see it as entertainment and not real life. The current narrative in TV soaps and sitcoms is having the super smart female lead and the dumb male version.

As Bill Maher said of it, “The wife is always brilliant and ethereal and right about everything … and the husband is always a dumb fuck, lucky to have found her.”

 

TV uses stereotypes – gender or otherwise – and you have to be mindful of them. Watch too much TV and you may start acting yours out.

Remember life in Hollywood films is not real

Some people believe that their love life should play out like a romantic Hollywood film. They have an unrealistic view of how a relationship should be. Romantic comedies are particularly influential in this respect.

Research has found that people believe their relationship is failing because those that are in it compare to what they see in films.

The media always need a boogeyman

Part of media manipulation is creating a boogeyman.

Russia, Isis, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran, Saddam Hussein, Colonel Gaddafi, Vietnam (in the 60s and 70s) and many others have all had boogeyman status at one point in the Western media.

Can you remember a time when there wasn’t one particular boogeyman in the media? I can’t. There’s always been someone or group or nation that we should be frightened of.

Isis is the current boogeyman. Once they’re eradicated there will be a new one and it looks like Russia is currently edging for it.

Take note of how the media portray certain individuals, groups and nations. Isis is a horrendous group but, if you live in the West, you’re more likely to be killed by your own furniture than the Islamic State.

Media manipulation is all around us

Growing up I used to believe that if it was in the news it was true. The news to most people like me was the authority on what was going on in the world. As information is more easily spread we’re discovering that isn’t the case.  We’re only presented with a particular angle of an event.

Sometimes it’s done intentionally and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s due to other factors like budget and time. The mainstream media – the press in particular – are struggling to monetise their online content.

The point is this, always consider a different angle of a story. Question what you’re being told and why you might be being told it.

Protect yourself from media manipulation. It’s all around us.

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