Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mass Media and Social Change

Common belief is that mass media is a giant social influencer. It can manipulate what the audience believes of the world through its words and propaganda. However, Lazarsfeld does not seem to believe so. He says that mass media simply “operate[s] toward the maintenance of the going social and cultural structure rather than toward its change” (234). This article brought out a new perspective on mass media that I never saw. Mass media always struck me as a means for these social influencers to advocate for social change, and to affirm or even alter the way the audience thinks about certain issues and current events. Yet Lazarsfeld claims that mass media pushes for no social change and simply affirms what already exists, it basically reflects reality back to the audience. This may be true in certain media such as television shows and other purely entertainment-focused content. Yet I would argue otherwise for media such as news broadcasting or the rising social media networks.

Voice of America is the U.S. federally owned broadcasting organization. Since it is federally owned and it’s a broadcasting organization, I’m sure you can guess what the intentions are behind this structure—to spread American ideology to the rest of the world. It wittily puts on the facade of trying to educate other countries, especially ones with communist or socialist structures, new ideologies and thoughts that are usually not spread or encouraged within that nation. However at its inner core, the intentions are to spread American ideology and democratic philosophies in order to instill American dominance on the rest of the world. By broadcasting information, Voice of America may not be able to directly cause social change, but the act of spreading that news is the first step in creating that change. The broadcasting agency is able to spark social action if not carry it out completely. Moreover, the rise of social networking media in recent years has brought about significant change to the way society interacts. Facebook has become the dominant means through which friends communicate other than phone or email. Networks such as LinkedIn has made visible the power of connections in the professional field and has become a tool for many to develop their careers more easily than before. I don't completely agree with Lazarsfeld that mass media merely affirms the status quo and does nothing to cause social change. In many ways, mass media is the first step to social change, and the largest driver of action if not the implementer of action itself. 

1 comment:

  1. Did you know that Lazarsfeld was actually involved in the research activities of Voice of America in its early years? The field of mass communications arose with these mid-century radio studies (for a useful overview of Lazarsfeld's work and his collaborations with other scholars, like Merton, see this bio.)

    To address your primary argument, I doubt L&M would have said mass media do "nothing" to drive social change; rather, most of the time, for most people, it provides more affirmation or confirmation than challenge. Of course, if one seeks out divergent opinion with an open mind, that's another story, but how often do we do that on a daily basis?