ROSARIO: Technology, social media dilute public trust of media


Column: The Mainstream

The death of publications came unknowingly. The reign of print media was, as Thomas Hobbes put it best, nasty, brutish and short. Journalism as a founding principle of the United States may very well be a dead natural right. 

Thomas Jefferson poured himself over the liberal texts of John Locke to create the founding blueprint of democratic principles — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — he proclaimed. But these things are unarguably not accessible without journalism. The news puts checks and balances on our political branches, allowing popular sovereignty to rule.

On June 13, 1971, The New York Times published a front-page story titled “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Three Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement.” The publication leaked the records of America’s secret involvement in Vietnam. The populace swarmed with debate. 

During this time, former President Richard Nixon attempted to use his presidential powers to restrain the further leaking of articles from The New York Times. Senators and other representatives fought to ensure the continuance of public debate. 

The people were outraged. The very stems of democracy were threatened. Nixon’s actions were taken to court.

The Supreme Court heard the case of The New York Times Co. v. United States and found that the use of prior restraint of the press did not meet the high burden it needed to comply with the First Amendment of the Constitution.  

The matter, now formally known as the Pentagon Papers, is one of the greatest examples showing the power behind free press. Free press empowers the people and puts checks and balances on societies susceptible to corruption. 

In this case, the press fueled the public opinion and fed it, and lawmakers had the information they needed to stop an infringement on one of the very basic rights — freedom of the press — that lies in our Bill of Rights. But what would happen if this occurred today?

Between 1971 and now, a public mistrust has begun to form in the global media market. There are, perhaps, a couple of issues that could pinpoint the beginning of this. One might say it was television news scandals or mass corporations gaining monopolies of radio and television airways, resulting in complete syndication of many of our channels. 

I would like to point to the rise of technology, and particularly social media as the culprit of journalism’s destruction.  

Social media and access to online platforms are great because they allow people to share their thoughts and opinions in novel ways that were not often before. These thoughts and opinions also have the ability to reach anyone with access to the internet. While from a creative aspect this is great, what happens when the lines between opinion, fact and fiction are blurred too much? 

Rutgers professor and Media Ecologist John Pavlik wrote in his book “Media in the Digital Age” that “blogs also blur the boundary between who is a source, who is an audience member and who is a journalist.” Extreme Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones does just that, using the internet to bring his radio show into the homes of many he sent out his theories into the public. 

Perhaps there is not a problem with someone merely sharing their conspiracies, but this does turn into a problem when his show gains a mass audience, relaying to them tons of incorrect information. This information could then misinform the public of what is going on in its society, and thus break the democratic system. 

There are also the issues that Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat bring to the table. Millennials and Generation Z are used to getting instant gratification in every aspect of life. If they want a new pair of shoes, they can order it online and within two days it will be at their doorstep. They do not have to drive to the mall, go to the store, talk to people, find out if the store has the shoes they want, buy the shoes in person and then go home. 

This is the same thing that happens with a news article. Print publications are gone and online publications are struggling to stay afloat. Popular social media platforms give their users all they think they need to know in a few short sentences. 

 

While we have our democratic values intact for now, if we let the digitization, socialization and misinformation of media take over, they may be irreversibly plagued. While I myself enjoy social media, it is important that we teach the upcoming generations the values of media and journalism. It is important that our youth learn the repercussions of an autocratic system without having to experience its evils. 

Hopefully, we are able to restore the press before time runs out.

Brianna Rosario is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. Her column, “The Mainstream,” runs on alternate Mondays.

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*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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