According to the Nielsen Company’s report, a global company which measures and monitors human consumption behavior, the average American spend 34 hours per week watching TV. Americans collectively spend 121,000,000,000 minutes on social networking per day. Since last week I have been following the news about the Boston Marathon tragedy, where three people died and over 200 were severely injured. In reading the reports, it struck me how biased social media and broadcasting companies could be in their reports.
Social media played an important role in reporting the Boston tragedy. For example, the local Boston Police Department communicated through Twitter to report about the manhunt of the Boston Marathon bombings suspects. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, was full of posts of condolences for the victims and their families.
The news websites were updated often to inform the public with the most current situation. However, every news website and every TV channel had different versions and it is own opinion.
There has been mass confusion and misinformation on the broadcasting corporations, which many perceive as reliable sources of news, about the origins of the suspects. Cable News Network (CNN) reported in one of their updates that one of the officers said that “The Tsarnaev family […] lived some time in Kazakhstan, and then went to the United States.” Nevertheless, National Broadcasting Company (NBC) stated that the family moved from another Central Asian country. “The suspect at large, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is 19, was born in Kyrgyzstan.” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), on the other hand, was careful enough to just state that the suspects moved to United States of America as “refugees from Central Asia in the late 1990s.”
There has also been conflicting information about how the suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev was caught in custody. Russian Channel One news said that Tsarnaev was exchanging gunshots for about an hour, while CNN website said that the police and the suspect were “negotiating” for a half an hour. There also has been some information about the use of grenades during the “negotiation.”
This is just one example of how media can disseminate contradicting information. Nonetheless, it can also affect mindset of people. “B.F.” (Burrhus Frederic) Skinner, American psychologist, believed environmental factors shaped and controlled individuals’ behavior. However, external factors can also shape people’s attitudes and beliefs about a particular event. In this case, media, as an external factor, creates specific attitudes on different topics. Those individuals who rely on the news of CNN, for example, might have a totally different opinion on the topic than an individual following NBC or BBC news. The different coverage can cause a conflict of views among different groups.
Phyllis Anastasio, Karen C. Rose, and Judith Chapman stated in their research study “Can the Media Create Public Opinion?” that “multiple news broadcasts dissect the world into distinct social categories.” The researchers believe that mass media bias has “the power to build bridges as well as destroy them” by diminishing group differences or emphasizing them. This affects people’s perception and public opinion. Some websites emphasized the religion of the suspect, whereas some websites focused more on the fact that the suspects were immigrants.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, American author, said, “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
The question is, are we able to hold conflicting information in one society and remain psychologically and emotionally stable? Who is wrong and who is right? No one knows. Will we ever be told the real story behind this tragedy? I don’t know.