Live media literate.

Join Understand Media to get access to our forums, the latest media literacy news, member-only articles, early access to our journals, and much more.

We will never give your info to anyone!

Kevin H.

There are many factors at play in determining how a community will respond to news of police brutality. These factors may include: a community’s relationship with the police, if the community feels rapid improvement for the police is possible, or just emotion. What I will focus is how social media affects the response to recent news events such as police incidents and if social media is ought to be considered a major factor in a community’s response. I believe the social media is becoming a factor so influential that it’s impossible for regular media to ignore.

Social media is a form of media which doesn’t require check and balances. One simply posts something onto Twitter and there’s a possibility the post may go viral and become news. These posts can range from opinions, videos, pictures, or reporting of an event. Due to the fact that there’s no middle man process between a user and social media, the general public may feel that this kind of “reporting” may be more genuine because the footage a user uploads will usually be one’s firsthand account. Traditional media sources such as television or newspaper usually results in the consumer experiencing a third hand account due to the standard review process in traditional media. By witnessing one’s firsthand account, a person may believe that they’re witnessing a story in its rawest and purest form which means it’ll have less of a media spin on it. This tendency is supported by various historians such as James Harvey Robinson, who states in his article "The Historical point of View" that when “a report passes from mouth to mouth the less trustworthy and accurate does it tend to become” which differs from a primary source such as a person self-documenting their own experience.

According to a Gallup Poll posted on September 28, 2015, it is reported that people’s trust with the media are at historic lows with “4 in 10 Americans trusting mass media” and with “younger Americans less likely than older to trust media”. This is due to the belief that mass media does not cover stories which are considered important/relevant to them because of knowledge that mass media curates what news stories will be reported. The internet plays another factor because there is now an alternative source of news reporting which may a different perspective than what mass media has to offer.

In the case of the Michael Brown shooting, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey to find out whether the issue of race was covered was covered enough or not in the media. The study found that “blacks were more likely than whites to say Brown's shooting raise racial issues”. 80% of the surveyed black people stated the case brought much needed attention to the importance of race issues while 37% of the surveyed white people believe that was also the case. Looking at the results of the study, one can see there is a large disparity regarding perspective which supports the commonly believed notion that everyone has a certain belief on how reporting should be done. As one can see from the survey, some communities believed these police incidents required the media’s attention while other communities disagreed. However, due to social media, communities do not have to depend whether traditional media outlets would report on the issues or not. One could simply use the search feature and find news which is relevant to one’s existing beliefs.

However, that did not prevent traditional media outlets from using their influence on people when the Ferguson police department leaked vital information which supported a different narrative that was popular on social media. As the Los Angeles Times reported on a case when Ferguson police officials leaked important security video footage to the public, a Justice Department spokeswoman stated “there seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case”. This acknowledgement of the leaks’ intention reveals that public opinion is fairly important which means there is value on what is being said on social media. But with all social media, one’s social media value is very dependent on how many people can hear that message.

A social media post is a lot like speaking alone to oneself in a room hoping that passersby will stop by to listen to what one has to say. One way to attract a gathering is to attract likeminded individuals who have similar beliefs and tastes. This grouping of likeminded individuals already being done via Google’s personalized search (which is the default for everyone) and through Facebook which logs each activity each user does on its website uses that recorded data to display recommended interest. On November 2015, the Washington Post even reported that “the FCC says it can’t force Google and Facebook to stop tracking their users”. Unfortunately, this result in a filter bubble for the user. As Eli Pariser, the person who coined the term filter bubble, stated on Slate.com, "It [Filter Bubble] creates the impression that our narrow self-interest is all that exists." As a result, people will only be more likely to read/follow/report news/media which reflects their self-interest/bias.

In the case of Ferguson, it was common for black communities to follow social media which appealed to their interest. This is due to a phenomenon known as black twitter in which is described by USC researchers as “discursive phenomenon in which individuals and groups use Twitter as a counterpublic space to engage in everyday talk about cultural, social, and political events that are important to Black communities both nationally and globally”.  As mentioned earlier, the racial factors surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown were important factors to follow. It would be expected that black communities would be more subject to imagery which is more sympathy to equality for blacks and imagery which supports the narrative of police brutality which generated the infamous Ferguson riots. Whether that narrative is accurate or not is a different story. However, it should not be a surprise if constant exposure of “evidence” of police brutality kept appearing on “black twitter” and this exposure generating in angry individuals due to people now having evidence to create stronger arguments of past transgressions which were ignored by most traditional media.

Having an alternate source of news reporting allows one to have more freedom in choosing which news stories to follow. However, this freedom may be a bit of an illusion because one may be subjective to group think which restricts the mind’s freedom to develop due to a lack of challenge towards one’s beliefs. Having these sheltered thoughts may encourage one to act out in frustration such as riots or aggressive protesting because one may believe that there is no salvation from the issues affecting that individual due to the feeling of being unheard. This supports the concept of that social media is an influential force which can elicit responses so great that traditional media is forced to acknowledge them.

Works Cited

Chatman, Dayna. "Black Twitter Project." Annenberglab.com. USC, 5 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Dec. 2015. <http://www.annenberglab.com/projects/dsail-black-twitter-project>.

Fung, Brian, and Andrea Peterson. "The FCC Says It Can’t Force Google and Facebook to Stop Tracking Their Users." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 6 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2015. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/11/06/the-fcc-says-it-cant-force-google-and-facebook-to-stop-tracking-their-users/>.

Harvey Robinson, James. "Why Study History Through Primary Sources." Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Fordham University, 1904. Web. 21 Dec. 2015. <http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/robinson-sources.asp>.

Pearce, Matt. "Justice Department Condemns Ferguson Leaks as Effort to Sway Opinion." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Riffkin, Rebecca. "Americans' Trust in Media Remains at Historical Low." Gallup.com. 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 21 Dec. 2015. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/185927/americans-trust-media-remains-historical-low.aspx>.

"Stark Racial Divisions in Reactions to Ferguson Police Shooting." Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Weisberg, Jacob. "Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble: Is Web Personalization Turning Us into Solipsistic Twits?" Slate.com. 10 June 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.