The effect and use of media as a way of influencing the public opinion and affecting people’s emotions is not a novel concept. However, unlike today, the newspapers and radio used to be the primary sources of information. They used to be successful businesses, and many people read newspapers on a daily basis because they had no other means of knowing what was going on around the world. One man who maliciously excelled in this regard was Josef Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Goebbels and the Nazis used propaganda to embrace any means for encouraging or demoralizing the mind, from the filthiest article in the gutter press and the new song-hit, to the wireless commentators’ radio scripts (Sington, 1943).
Adolf Hitler named Josef Goebbels as a member of the German government and created a Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda under his supervision. With this signature, a new institution was born, tasked with controlling the written and spoken word in Germany, directing all forms of speech, and publicizing German economic and political activities both at home and abroad (Sington, 1943). The Propaganda Ministry in the Third Reich’s whole machine for managing and generating public opinion could be linked to the Ministry of War. It coordinates, prepares, and is responsible for the smooth execution of the German government’s entire propaganda effort (Sington, 1943).
Journalists were carefully supervised by the Ministry of People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda. They were often told that they could not report a specific event because it would make the Nazis look poor or bad. Since no two people are alike, The Nazi Party’s extremist view of Anti-Semitism was not welcomed by all sectors of society. As such, Goebbels and Hitler knew they had to tailor their views and propaganda in order to target certain individuals. In order to illustrate, antisemitism was always a core Nazi tenet, but Hitler and other leaders found that their strident anti-Jewish messages did not resonate with all Germans. That being said, in some places, the Nazis downplayed antisemitism or even ignored it in their propaganda campaigns. (Bachrach, 2009).
On another hand, North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or “The Hermit Kingdom,” is the world’s most isolated nation today. The abysmal “distinction” of North Korea is that it is ranked last out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. For more than half a century, its citizens have been subjected to the dictatorial rule of the world’s only dynastic communist regime, the Kim family. Kim Il-Sung, North Korea’s founder, established a fanatical cult of personality, akin to a god (Cha, 2013). He managed to do this not only through a mixture of external powers, astute political manipulation, and media control, but referred to other means as well. Kim managed to construct an almost fairy-tale like picture of his childhood and upbringing, such as being born on Mt. Paektu (Myers, 2011).
Paektu holds similar significance to Mt. Fuji in Japan. He took full control of what people read and saw. He managed to get away with this because, unlike individuals who live outside the country and to the ordinary North Korean, such misinformation is considered factual. The average citizen of North Korea is so indoctrinated by state propaganda that Kim was later compared to Christ in terms of devotion, Buddha in terms of benevolence, Confucius in terms of morality, and Mohammed in terms of justice. North Korean propaganda is so effective that ‘The Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il, and the Great Successor Kim Jong-un’ are all adored by 75% of North Korean defectors’ (Cha, 2013).
This is even more surprising when one considers that, despite having fled to the free world and discovered the truth about the dictatorship in which they grew up, these defectors still harbor feelings for the Kim family.
With that having been said, it is important to take a look at America’s stance in this regard. America’s political division is well illustrated when looking at which news sources people choose to follow and get information from. Some news outlets have a reasonably equal viewership distribution, while others have a heavy right or left skew. Ordinary Americans only had one choice when they switched on the TV at 6 pm a decade ago: to watch the evening news. They may have watched ABC, CBS, or NBC, but it would not have made a difference because they all delivered the same information in the same way back then.
If the same was done today, Americans would have many choices to choose from, and they wouldn’t need to only follow up on the news but also on sports, movies, reruns, and so on. Individuals may opt to hear information that confirms their views while ignoring that which comes from opposing viewpoints, and that is because of the availability of openly political sources.
For instance, Fox News is more popular among Republicans, while MSNBC is more popular among liberals. Scholars have discovered a variety of partisan media-related impacts, including vote preference, engagement, and attitudes toward bipartisanship and compromise, to name a few. We know very little about how news organizations influence one another, particularly in today’s 24-hour news cycle. Recent research indicates that these outlets, particularly Fox News, have influenced congressional actions.
So, what are the effects of media manipulation?
In today’s modern world, social media can be used as a tool powerful enough to influence people’s beliefs. Specific groups take advantage of the internet and all the opportunities it provides in order to target vulnerable groups as a means to spread messages and gain audiences. To put this into perspective, an internet troll is someone who deliberately attempts to provoke specific emotional responses from the audience. Trolling can be used to cause distress or to even ruin the reputation of people or organizations, which is a tactic often used during elections, namely the U.S. elections.
These people are also often referred to as cyber troops. Cyber troops can comprise of many different types of people, including the government, the military, and different political parties within a state. Their goal is to manipulate public opinion in some sort of way in order to achieve their agenda.
In addition, Media bias is most definitely not accidental. It has evolved in the same way over the course of decades, prioritizing the needs of certain people and favouring certain races, organizations, politicians, and more. These mainstream publications only serve to reflect dominant ideologies, leading to dire consequences for minorities everywhere. By silencing minority communities and classes, the media further exacerbates their oppression. We can refer to the current Palestinian situation and the crisis happening in Sheikh Jarrah for example: Instagram is taking down posts that call out Zionist ideologies and condemn the actions of israel. More often than not, the media manipulates coverages to its advantage in order to satisfy certain powerful groups and corporations.
However, what does that mean for the mental health of those oppressed groups? Oppressed group members who face continuous and never-ending discrimination are very prone to mental disorders. Such disorders include stress-related disorders, anxiety, depression, and much more. Even more so, chronic oppression contributes to low self-esteem and a decreased sense of well-being. When the media contributes to the wrongful representation of such individuals and silences them by manipulating the content, minority group members are the victims of a continuous cycle of oppression and psychological distress.
In an age of media saturation, content diversification, and technological advancement, even those with a keen interest in understanding the world are finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between what is “true” and what is not. There is no denying that “fictional” media has an effect on how people think and behave in such an environment, and this must change.