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【Glocal獨家分析】Tell me what you read and I will tell who you are – how social media can be used to polarize political debates, and what can be done to neutralize misinformation while upholding the freedom of speech 社交媒體如何被用以激化政治紛爭?如何能消除假消息同時維護言論自由?

(By Anastasiia Pachina, Sociologist from Charles University, Prague)

 

編輯摘要/ 香港國際問題研究所研究員陳子謙

在資訊科技的年代,個人的政治取向往往能從他所瀏覽的媒體資訊(如 Youtube 影片、推特發帖)中窺探出來,而網絡平台所設的演算法將用戶規限於同溫層,令情況更為惡化,使其瀏覽到的資訊更單調,並較少顯示與用戶立場相反的資訊,令用戶不但更容易偏頗於本身的立場,用戶對政治紛爭的取態亦更易被操縱。既而,究竟如何才可以在規範媒體資訊的同時確保言論自由不被剝削?

在大數據的年代, 一段 Youtube影片或 Twitter 發帖便能窺探一個人的政治取向 (圖片來源: Wikimedia Commons)

媒體與它帶來的同溫層效應

自科技發展,媒體成為了公共討論的主要平台,使不同地方的用戶溝通、分享及評論時事。用戶在媒體上根據自身的意見及見識而互相溝通,亦可以擔任記者的角色,散播及製造新聞。因此,媒體使用者與媒體製作者的界線愈顯模糊,理應可以使公共論述在沒有資訊控制或利益衝突之下順利建立。

 

然而一旦媒體受國家或某個階層所操縱,則會成為操縱群眾的工具,討論空間繼而變成不同利益群及陣營之間爭執之地,激化雙方的辯論,將群眾分裂成兩個對立面。有如民調顯示多數共和黨支持者及近半民主黨支持者認為報社有偏頗的情況出現;亦有研究顯示歐洲報社的政治傾向直接影響著他們對移民、選舉與貪腐的關注度;俄國媒體亦明顯地分為親政府及反政府兩個陣營。

 

媒體成為不同陣營建立自身論述與定論常理的戰場,而媒體不斷擴展自身覆蓋的領域,令更多人參與戰場之中,則更為激化陣營間的對立。

一旦媒體受某個階層所操縱的話,便會激化雙方的辯論,並令群眾對立加劇,例如不少共和黨支持者及民主黨支持者均認為報社有偏頗的情況 (圖片來源: Wikimedia Commons)

媒體素養的重要

既然現實中媒體不負責任地發佈虛假信息的情況無法被遏止,培養公眾思辨能力,則可以令大眾在資訊氾濫、密集的情況下分辨出誠實的資訊,從而減低假消息的影響力及其數量,同時維持著言論自由。

 

媒體素養蘊含著十分廣泛的概念框架,可以擴闊並豐富不同領域上的討論,因此如何利用這些框架也是用戶自身的責任。聯合國教科文組織曾定義媒體素養為「閱讀、思辨、創意、跨文化意識、公民意識」,並認為它是種「接觸、理解及分析媒體資訊,並在不同處境中交流的能力」。

 

基於以上定義,大眾普遍可能認為自己具有媒體素養,因為他們能夠接觸到不同資訊,能夠分享及製造消息。然而,思辨及自我檢討才是更重要的元素。由於大眾的警覺性不足,他們未必察覺到他們的思想受媒體資訊所渲染。若然大眾能增強其媒體素養,則可以了解媒體影響人民的方法,從而幫助自己脫離那些影響。

 

媒體素養的教育在美國及歐洲都有著相當有效的成果,令受眾重新思考自己的瀏覽習慣,及嘗試了解媒體的背景及不同的政見,甚至學習如何分辨假新聞與政治宣傳。受眾亦可以了解如何避免成為散播假消息的一份子,以及「分享鍵」如何深化矛盾。教育使人重新審視自己的習慣,大眾亦應投入於透明的對話,從而令自己獲取不偏不倚的新聞。

 

In the information age, the media product that the public consume, the tweets that we read, the YouTube channels we watch, is all one needs to know to learn of one’s political stance.  The situation is exacerbated by the filter bubble (Pariser, 2012). It is formed around us due to the media consumption algorithms, which homogenize news according to our preferences and separate users from information that contradicts with their opinions. This causes two problems: not only the audiences are prone to be reinforced their own existing biases by the media bubble, furthermore, the perception of the public on political discourses may be manipulated from the supply end. The dilemma, of course, is to find the balance between regulating the media, while upholding the principle of the freedom of speech. Is there a true solution to this?

 

Media and the echo chamber of public opinion it creates

The public sphere is a place where diverse views and rational, critical discussions meet (Habermas, 1991, 2-4). In today`s world the media became one of the main platforms for societal discussion in the public space. As part of the discussion, people communicate through and with the media with their own experiences and opinions. The advantages of media are that they do not require the unity of space and time between the individual participants in communication. We share and comment on the news, which were published for several hundred and thousands of kilometers from us. We also contribute to the news design. It means that ordinary people often take on the role of a journalist and become active members of the process of disseminating and creating news. This phenomenon is called citizen journalism also known as public or participatory journalism. The line between the media consumer and the media producer is getting more blurred. A news reader or a news watcher is no longer a passive recipient. Ideally, if the public discourse is the result of a transparent dialogue, between media producers and media consumers where there is no place for information control or pressure of interests,

 

However, the media lose its role of creating a critical debate in the public sphere when the state or certain social classes take control of the public space. In this case, the media are more likely to become tools for manipulating rather than empowering the masses (Curran, 2011, 78). The neutral zone of public space thus turns into a struggle of various interest groups, camps that put pressure on the ongoing discussion thereby polarizing the debate. This usually creates a dangerous dichotomy amongst the populace, between an “us” and a “them”, between leftist and rightist etc. For instance, in the US, in 2017 84% of Republicans and 53% of Democrats note that news agencies tend to favor one side (Pew Research Center, 2017) whereas in Europe the political leaning of news agents also has a direct impact on the coverage of immigration, elections, and corruption issues (Fletcher, Jenkins, 2019, 3). In Russia, there is also a fairly clear separation between pro-government and opposition media.

 

Media become a battlefield where camps, opponents legitimise the production of meanings and the establishment of standards and norms. Moreover, the process of expanding the boundaries of media discourse and activating a mass audience, which is nowadays able to directly participate in political communication, reinforces the polarization.

 

Media literacy is key

Reasoning leads us to the question of how we can promote conscientious media consumption and neutralize misinformation while upholding the freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is an important element to this issue. The rapid dissemination of information does not allow blocking media sources and punishing journalists every time they broadcast fake news. We cannot promise the creation of an absolutely independent source of information. In any case, one day someone will take control of it. Instead, we can educate an audience because the issue of biased information should be regarded from both sides, from the side of news products and news organisations and from the side of news consumers. Therefore, media literacy is one of the most effective ways to reduce misinformation, the impact of fake news and at the same time to preserve freedom of speech.

 

The media literacy movement unites various educators and helps to grasp, to produce and negotiate meanings in a culture of images, words and sounds (Aufderheide, 1992). Media literacy implies the presence of a wide range of conceptual tools, which expand and enrich public discussion on various topics. This embraces an emphasis not only on the rights of individuals and groups but also on the responsibility that they as communicators have on the Internet (Hobbs, Jensen, 2009, 6). The UNESCO definition (2008, 6) of information and media literacy may be summarized with 5 core competencies: Comprehension, Critical thinking, Creativity, Cross-cultural awareness and Citizenship. More specifically UNESCO (2008, 7) determines media literacy as “an ability to access the media, to understand and to critically evaluate different aspects of the media and media contents and to create communications in a variety of contexts”. Some researchers replace the concept of media literacy with the concept of media criticism. They argue that moving beyond literacy, media criticism gives an impulse for citizen empowerment and engagement (Vande Berg, Wenner, Gronbeck, 2004). Despite differences in names and definitions, both concepts have a common goal of providing “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create messages across a variety of contexts” (Christ, Potter, 1998, 7)

 

We would certainly argue that we are media literate. We know how to get an access to all kinds of information: to films, music, books, news, etc. We also know how to create our own information and share it with others. However, critical thinking and self-assessments are more important elements to individuals. Therefore, in addition to access to information and content creation, there should also be  also elements and tools of analysis and evaluation. A big part of the audience is not aware that they allow the media to program them and because of their unawareness, they cannot control the process of programming (Potter, 2013, XiX). Programming gives an opportunity to a certain group of people to manage the discussion and lead it in the direction in which it is beneficial for them. A higher level of media literacy, which also includes the awareness of how the mass media function and affect people, will give more control over the media impact and will help to get out of the filter bubble.

 

There are successful examples of the introduction of media literacy education in school curricula in the USA (Hobbs, 2004). In Europe we can find a project whose goal is to define and develop digital literacy that is seen as a convergence of IT literacy, information literacy, technological literacy, media literacy, and visual literacy (Martin, 2006). More than one year ago, I also took a course on media literacy in Russia where I got the opportunity to rethink my media habits. After the course, it took me some time to force myself to look at the information sources that support the party, politicians whose ideas and opinions I fundamentally did not accept. It took me even more time to learn how to recognize fake news and propaganda. I realized that it is also us who are sometimes creators and distributors of misinformation and fake news. At the moment when we click “share” or “like” in an unverified source of information or on unverified news, we continue the chain of fiction and deception thereby deepening the polarization in political debates. In addition, the same event is usually covered from different angles, which is why we often wonder how a person who received the same information that I received can support another candidate or party. The answer is that we live in various information environments and unfortunately, we rarely challenge our media habits. At the same time, we prefer unbiased news coverage. Nevertheless, to achieve this we should engage in a transparent dialogue and begin to compare diverse sometimes ideologically opposing sources of information and analyze the incoming news.

 

Instead of a conclusion

Courses and books on media literacy are becoming more popular. They allow us to learn how to recognize, select and filter information. Media literate person has the ability to think critically, which distinguishes him from thoughtless news consumers. There are still many questions about how to provide quality media education for all people who intentionally or without special goals consume media products and services or which format should be chosen. The issue is open for discussion. Let`s just rely on the facts but not on our feelings and the divergence of political attitudes.

 

References

Aufderheide P (1992). Media Literacy: A Report of the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute. Available at: http:// www.medialit.org/reading_room/article356.html.

Christ, W. G., & Potter, W. J. (1998). Media literacy, media education, and the academy. Journal of communication48(1), 5-15.

Curran, J. (2011). Media and democracy. London: Routledge.

Fletcher, R., & Jenkins, J. (2019). Polarisation and the news media in Europe. Brussels: European Union.

Habermas, J. (1991). The structural transformation of the public sphere: an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Cambridge, Mass: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Hobbs, R. (2004). A review of school-based initiatives in media literacy education. American Behavioral Scientist48(1), 42-59.

Hobbs, R., & Jensen, A. (2009). The past, present, and future of media literacy education. Journal of media literacy education1(1), 1-11.

Martin, A. (2006). A European framework for digital literacy. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 1(02), 151-161.

Pariser, E. (2012). The filter bubble: how the new personalized web is changing what we read and how we think. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Pew Research Center (2017) Americans’ attitudes about the news media deeply divided along partisan lines, 10 May. Available at: http://www.journalism.org/2017/05/10/americans-attitudes-about-the-news-media-deeply-divided-along-partisan-lines/.

Potter, W. J. (2013). Media literacy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

UNESCO (2008). Teacher Training Curricula for Media and information Literacy. Report of the International Expert Group Meeting. Paris: International UNESCO. Avaible at: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CI/CI/pdf/teacher_training_curricula_mil_meeting_june_2008_report_en.pdf (15.01.2020).

Vande Berg, L. R., Wenner, L. A., & Gronbeck, B. E. (2004). Media literacy and television criticism: Enabling an informed and engaged citizenry. American behavioral scientist48(2), 219-228.

 

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