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6.13: Scientific and Technological Innovations Impact on Society

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  • social media jigsaw picture.
    Figure 6.13.1

    The availability of "new media" and social media resources on the Internet has had a great impact on politics and government. The early 1980s saw the development of what we call the new media: new technologies and old technologies in new combinations. They are muddying if not eliminating the differences between media. On the iPad, newspapers, television, and radio stations look similar: they all have text, pictures, video, and links. Increasingly, Americans, particularly students, are obtaining information on tablets and from websites, blogs, discussion boards, video-sharing sites, such as YouTube, and social networking sites, like Facebook, podcasts, and Twitter. And of course, there is the marvel of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia to which so many people (400 million every month) go to for useful, if not always, reliable information.

    Changing Relationships

    New Media and Social Change
    Figure 6.13.2: New media are changing the relationship between communication and government and politics in four significant ways.

    More Information Available and Accessible 

    Julian Assange Photograph
    Figure 6.13.3: Julian Assange founded wikileaks.org as an electronic repository of stolen classified information in the belief that all government information should be accessible to the public. In doing this, he became one of the most wanted and vilified men in the world from the perspective of government but has become something of an international folk hero among many others in the general public.

    Julian Paul Assange founded WikiLeaks.org in 2007 to expose the secrets of governments, corporations, and other institutions. In 2010 he released a classified video showing a U.S. helicopter killing civilians, including two journalists, in Baghdad—an edited version was viewed several million times on YouTube. [1] He has since released thousands of intelligence and military field reports from the war in Afghanistan and from the front lines of the conflict in Iraq.

    Assange followed up in November 2010 with a dump of classified cables sent by U.S. diplomats from their embassies during the last three years. The cables detailed the diplomats’ dealings with and honest assessments of both the foreign countries where they were stationed and their leaders, revealing the reality beneath the rhetoric: that Saudi Arabia has urged that Iran be bombed, that Shell dominates the government of Nigeria, that China launched a cyber attack on Google, and that the U.S. State Department urged its employees to collect biometrical information on foreign diplomats serving at the United Nations.

    WikiLeaks released the material to selected leading newspapers in the United States (New York Times), the United Kingdom (Guardian), and elsewhere, deferring to the journalists to decide which ones were news, which could be made public, and whether to redact names from them. Nonetheless, their release could damage the careers of some U.S. diplomats and discloses the names of informants, thereby endangering them. The cables could be subject to foreign governments’ and private companies’ data-mining and pattern-analysis programs. Consequently, the U.S. Justice and Defense Departments and other organizations tried to stop Assange, to avoid further leaks, and to punish the leakers.

    Video: Wikileaks Explained

     Online Presence of News and Information

    Media Collage
    Figure 6.13.4: The Internet has transformed the mission and product of news agencies like Reuters, Associated Press, the New York Times, CNN, Newsweek and Time into the reporting of real time news events using multi-media publications as well as traditional print media.

    News organizations, with their legitimacy and experienced journalists, have gone online. They often add details and links missing from their broadcast or published versions of their stories. Their sophisticated technology keeps their sites fresh with the latest news, photos, and real-time audio and video. In February 2011, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation announced the arrival of The Daily, a general-interest publication for tablet computers. It will cost ninety-nine cents weekly or forty dollars for a year. [2]

    Journalists incorporate the Internet into their reporting. They read the sites of other news organizations, get story ideas, background information, check facts, search for and receive press releases, and download data.

    The nonprofit investigative site Pro-Publica—which has exposed the involvement of doctors in torture, the contamination of drinking water through gas drilling, and other outrages—is generating and sharing content with many print publications that have cut back their investigative reporting.

    Talking Points Memo was primarily responsible for tenacious investigative journalism, pursuing and publicizing the firing of eight U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration’s Justice Department. The result was a scandal that sparked interest by the mainstream media and led to the resignation of President Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, in 2008. The ideologically conservative Drudge Report came to fame when Matt Drudge used his web portal to spread the latest news and rumors about the relationship between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The site is now looked to by television producers, radio talk-show hosts, and reporters, for scoops, the latest leaks, gossip, and innuendo.

    Andrew Breithbart, a former colleague of Matt Drudge, founded his site in 2005. It aggregates news from the wire services and is viewed by an average of 2.4 million people monthly. He is also responsible for the websites Big Hollywood, Big Government, and Big Journalism, which provide some original reporting and commentary from a conservative perspective by unpaid bloggers, as well as references to articles on other sites.

    Breithbart made a splash with videos posted on Big Government in September 2009 regarding ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). Since 2006, conservatives had attacked ACORN, accusing it of voter fraud. This became the dominant frame and set the agenda for media coverage of the organization. Now the hidden-camera, heavily edited footage (the complete original video footage has never been fully disclosed) showed ACORN employees offering advice to a man and woman, who were posing as a pimp and a prostitute, proposing to bring underage Salvadoran girls into the United States to be sexually enslaved. The footage became a top story on the Glenn Beck Show, the rest of Fox News, and conservative talk radio. In December 2009, the Congressional Research Service issued a report exonerating ACORN of any wrongdoing. A few months later, ACORN went out of business. [3]

    Narrowcasting Photograph
    Figure 6.13.5: Today, many major networks are increasingly involved in narrowcasting which involves segmenting programming into genres such as reality TV, sports, drama, comedy and news/weather with specialized content and a variety of channels and choices that are targeted towards specific audiences and can be interactively selected by the viewer.

    Narrowcasting

    The new media can aim at more discrete, specialized audiences, narrowcasting rather than broadcasting. Often controlled by individual communicators, their content is usually aimed at smaller and more socially, economically, and perhaps politically distinct audiences than the mass media. This fragmentation of the mass audience means that the old mass-media pursuit of lowest-common-denominator content may no longer be financially necessary or viable.

    There are cable channels devoted to women, African Americans, and Hispanics, as well as for buffs of news, weather, history, and sports. DVDs and CDs enable the cheap reproduction of a wide range of films and recordings that no longer have to find a mass market to break even. Although the recording industry is selling fewer and fewer CDs and is phasing out music formats with small audiences (e.g., classical, jazz), artists can produce their own CDs and find a far-flung audience, particularly through web-based commerce such as Amazon.

    Satellite radio is the fastest growing radio market. It uses technology that broadcasts a clear signal from space to receivers anywhere in the world. Providers XM and Sirius offer uninterrupted programming for a subscription fee. Listeners have hundreds of program options. Broadcast radio stations are no longer limited by the range of a signal across terrain but through the web can reach listeners who make up an audience that is less bounded by geography than by shared cultural, social, and political interests.

    For people interested in government, politics, and public affairs, there are web magazines such as Slate, Salon, and Politico with its staff of established political reporters.

    Creating Content

    As major news organizations have gone online, they have hired technologically skilled young people. At first, these people would primarily reprocess content. Now they create it, as they know how to take advantage of the technology. Thanks to cell-phone cameras, webcams, and social networks, ordinary people can create, store, sort, share, and show digital videos. YouTube is the go-to website for finding obscure and topical streaming video clips. Home videos, remixes, and television excerpts are posted by users (also by the television networks). YouTube has millions of videos and daily viewers.

    People can use video clips to hold politicians accountable by revealing their gaffes, showing the contradictions in their statements and behavior, and thereby exposing their dissembling, their exaggerations, and even their falsehoods. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had to say that she had misremembered when her claim that she had been under sniper fire at the airport during her 1996 visit to Bosnia as First Lady was refuted by videos shown on YouTube that attained millions of views.

    People can become citizen journalists and create contents by reporting on subjects usually ignored by the news media. Examples include OneWorldTV’s human rights and development site and short videos on subjects such as land expropriation in Kenya, gang reform in Ecuador, and LiveLeak’s coverage of executions in Saudi Arabia.

    People can become citizen journalists as eyewitnesses to events. Examples of their reporting include the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, Hurricane Katrina that hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, and the massacre of students at Virginia Tech University in 2006. They showed some of what happened and documented the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the authorities’ responses. Mainstream media have incorporated citizen journalism into their news products. CNN’s “iReport,” in which “you take control of the news,” encourages average people to submit stories with accompanying images. Reports span numerous topics, including candidates on the campaign and pet stories.

    The Free Press now has a site called Media Watch where people can post egregious examples of media derelictions and failures.

    Blogging

    blogging graphic
    Figure 6.13.6: Blogging has made news consumers into news reporters. But blogs are often written with a certain point of view or agenda in mind which can produce bias. What kind of care should viewers take when reading a blog?

    Blogs are online diaries whose authors post information, including ideas and opinions. Blogs may permit feedback from readers and provide hyperlinks to other online contents that may enrich the discussion. Many people blog; the most popular political blog sites, Instapundit and DailyKos, claim over 75,000 visitors per day, but few are widely read. Nonetheless, there are thousands of political blogs on the web: the Huffington Post, a news aggregator with some original material, claims more than 1800 bloggers—none of them paid.

    Blogging can be seen as a new form of journalism without deadlines or broadcast schedules. But it does not replace reporting. Most bloggers rely on material issued elsewhere for their information: domestic and foreign newspapers, government documents, academic papers, and other media.

    Nonetheless, the “blogosphere” can hold public officials accountable by amplifying and spreading information, especially when many bloggers cover the same subject, a phenomenon known as “blogswarm.” For example, Mississippi Republican senator Trent Lott, at a reception honoring his South Carolina colleague Strom Thurmond’s hundredth birthday, spoke approvingly of the latter’s pro-segregationist 1948 presidential campaign: “When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all of these years either.” The journalists in attendance little noted his comment. Bloggers saw the quote in a story on ABC News’s daily online comment “The Note.” They highlighted and linked it to previous statements on racial issues by Thurmond and Lott. The bloggers’ comments were picked up by the news media. As a result, Lott subsequently resigned as Senate Majority Leader.

    Bloggers can hold the news media accountable. One important way is by challenging the media’s framing of a story. For example, conservative bloggers criticize reporters for framing stories about abortion, gay rights, and religion from a liberal perspective.

    Bloggers also challenge the media’s stories themselves. On the 60 Minutes Wednesday segment of September 8, 2005, anchor Dan Rather presented documents purportedly showing that President George W. Bush had received preferential treatment in joining the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s and thus avoided military service in Vietnam. The report was a scoop that had been rushed onto the air. Conservative Internet forums and bloggers immediately pointed out that, because of their format and typography, the documents were forged. The accusation quickly gained national attention by the news media and was soon corroborated. Rather’s long career at CBS was ended sooner than he and the network had planned.

    Limitations

    cyberbullying
    Figure 6.13.7: Cyberbullying has become a major problem as new media and social media sites. This is just one of the many limitations and problems associated with the use of social media and Internet resources.

    The ability of new media to realize their potential and promise for improving citizen education and enhancing public life is limited in five ways.

    First, political websites and bloggers generally lack the resources of the news media and the knowledge and expertise of journalists to cover and investigate government, politics, and public policies in depth. They react to rather than originate the news.

    Second, the new media encourage people to expose themselves to contents (people and perspectives) they already agree with. The audience for Fox News is overwhelmingly Republican, while Democrats gravitate to MSNBC and Comedy Central. Liberals find stories that support their views on the Huffington Post, conservatives on the National Review Online. Liberal blogs link to other liberal blogs, conservative blogs to other conservative blogs.

    Third, the new media are rife with muddle and nonsense, distortion, and error. When the journalist Hunter S. Thompson died, an Internet site reported President Nixon’s opinion that Thompson “represented the dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character.” In fact, Thompson said that about Nixon. Worse, the new media are a fount of rumor, innuendo, invective, and lies. The Indian wire service Press Trust quoted an anonymous Indian provincial official stating that President Obama’s official state visit to India would cost $2 billion ($200 million a day). The story was picked up by the Drudge Report, other online sites, and conservative talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. Glenn Beck presented the trip as a vacation accompanied by 34 warships and three thousand people. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) repeated the claim to Anderson Cooper on his CNN program. This inspired him to track it down, reveal its falsity, and show how it had been perpetuated. [4]

    Even worse, the new media can promote and express anger, hatred, rage, and fanaticism. When American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded by his Al Qaeda captors in Pakistan in May 2002, the action was videotaped and distributed over the Internet on a grainy video titled “The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl.” [5]

    Fourth, is the possibility of the new media falling increasingly under the control of media conglomerates and giant corporations. Google has purchased YouTube. This could eventually subject them to the same demands placed on the mass media: how to finance the production of content and make a profit. Indeed, advertising has become far more prevalent in and on the new media. Of course, acquisitions don’t always succeed: Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought and then sold MySpace after failing to make it a financial or social networking success.

    Fifth, the new media are a threat to privacy. Google logs all the searches made on it and stores the information indefinitely. Relatedly, the new media tend to defer to government. AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo, but not Google, have complied with requests from the U.S. Justice Department for website addresses and search terms. Google in China omits links to sites that the Chinese government does not want its citizens to see.

    In the United States, there are Gawker and its network, including the gossip sites Jezebel and Deadspin. They have no compunctions about breaching people’s privacy—even if it means violating journalistic norms by paying for information, as they did in the case of the diary written in the form of a thesis of a recent Duke University graduate and also a story concerning quarterback Brett Favre’s behavior.

    Political Potential

    internet site montage
    Figure 6.13.8: The Internet gives users a wide array of choices and allows for debate and discussion on public policy. But savvy users know that this information must be filtered for content, accuracy, reliability, bias, and other potential limitations.

    Relatively few Internet users attend to politics or government or public policies.[6] Nonetheless, the new media are rife with political potential. They can convey a wide range of information and views. There are sites for people of every political persuasion interested in any policy issue (e.g., drugs, education, health, environment, immigration). These sites can encourage discussion and debate, stimulate political participation, raise funds, mobilize voters, and inspire civic engagement.

    The new media allow politicians, political parties, interest and advocacy groups, as well as individuals to bypass the traditional media and reach the public. They can try to control their image by deciding what information to release and selecting congenial media through which to communicate it—to their benefit but not necessarily our enlightenment. Sarah Palin, for example, uses Twitter, Facebook, appearances on Fox News (the network paid for a television studio in her home), a reality television show, newspaper columns, and two best-selling books to communicate her message. She usually avoids appearing on shows whose hosts may be hostile to or even critical of her. (The belief that public figures, including Palin, personally write everything issued in their names is questionable; President Obama has admitted that he doesn’t write his Twitter feeds).

    The new media offer people the potential opportunity to transcend the mass media. As newspaper columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote rather hyperbolically, “When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cell phone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload a video on YouTube, everyone is a filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure.” [7]

    Figure 6.13.9

     Continue your research by reading the following online articles:

    Study/Discussion Questions

    Construct a “blog post” that discusses the following.  Make references to the documentary and the articles.

    1.  What is WikiLeaks and what do they do?

    2.  Who is Bradley Manning and what was his involvement in WikiLeaks?

    3.  What has the financial blockade done to Wikileaks and how can technologies like BitCoin help?

    4. Discuss the social, ethical and cultural impacts of:

    Leaking classified material

    Keeping secrets

    The WikiLeaks financial blockade


    Sources:

    [1] See Raffi Khatchadourian, “No Secrets,” The New Yorker, June 7, 2010, 40–51.
    
    [2] Jeremy W. Peters and Brian Stelter, “News Corp Heralds Debut of The Daily, an iPad-Only Newspaper,” New York Times, February 3, 2011, B1 and 4.
    
    [3] Peter Dreier and Christopher R. Martin, “How ACORN Was Framed: Political Controversy and Media Agenda Setting,” Perspectives on Politics 8, no. 3 (September 2010): 761–92; the statement that the complete original video has “never been fully disclosed” is on p. 780.
    
    [4] Reported by Thomas L. Friedman in “Too Good to Check,” his column in the New York Times, October 17, 2010, A27.
    
    [5] Mariane Pearl’s memoir of her husband, A Mighty Heart (New York: Scribner, 2004), was made into a film released in 2007.
    
    [6] For a critical view of the political effectiveness of the Internet, see Matthew Hindman,The Myth of Digital Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).
    
    [7] Thomas L. Friedman, “The World Is Watching,” International Herald Tribune, June 28, 2007, 6.
    
    [8] On the importance of civic education for young people, see Peter Levine, The Future of Democracy: Developing the Next Generation of American Citizens (Medford, MA: Tufts University Press, 2007).
    
    [9] Laura Smith-Spark, “Young US Voters May Get Scoop in 2008,” BBC News, November 4, 2007.