Representations of sexuality in the media

Media representations of sexuality have historically been mostly heterosexual, with LGBT representations being largely invisible.

Batchelor et al (2009) found that when gay representations did appear in the mainstream media, they weren’t generally ‘integrated’ into plot lines, but rather gayness was part of the plot, seen as a source of anxiety, or as a target of teasing or bullying.

Dyer (2002) observed that ‘the person’s person’ alone does not show that a person is gay, and that the media have constructed stereotypical signs of ‘gayness’ which include certain facial expressions, vocal tones, stances or clothing.

Craig (1992) identified three media signifiers of gayness

  1. Camp – the ‘flamboyant figure of fun’ – a ‘non threatening’ representation of gayness, lying somewhere between male and female and one of the most widely found representations
  2. Macho – An openly sexual look which exaggerates aspects of traditional masculinity, as exemplified by the village people.
  3. Deviant – where gay people are portrayed as evil or devious, possibly as sexual predators or who feel guilty about their sexuality. Such representations seem to construct homosexuality as morally wrong.

Research conducted by Stonewall (2011) concluded that the LGBT community were being subjected to symbolic annihilation. They found that LGBTs were disproportionately consigned to the status of comedic relief – their characters presented as something to laugh at or deride. This was especially found to be the case with representations of lesbianism, frequently presented as over-sexualised and exotic, for male’s viewing pleasure.

Out of a total of 126 hours of television programmes analysed:

  • 5 hours and 43 minutes focused on LGBT related issues or characters
  • 46 minutes portrayed them realistically or positively.

Stoenewall noted that the majority of the coverage represented gays in particular as:

  • Unhappy and distressed about their sexual orientation
  • As people who had been bullied and rejected by their families

There was very little reference to lesbians or transsexuals.

Changing representations of LGBTs in the Media 

There are several examples of contemporary shows which have LGBT characters , and in which sexuality is largely incidental to the plots in the show, and only part of the character’s identity, rather than them being subsumed by it, as was so often the case in early representations.

Probably the most obvious example of this on British Television is Doctor Who – which has featured several gay characters in recent series.

In the USA (not UK unfortunately) GLAAD conducts an annual content analysis of the representation of LGBT characters.

Their 2019 report summarizes  content analysis of 111 primetime shows with 857 series regular characters broadcast on the main USA networks (ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, and NBC).

They found that 8.8 percent of ‘series regular characters’ were LGBT,

LGBT media.PNG

This was an increase of 2.4 percentage points from the previous year’s 6.4 percent. This is the highest percentage GLAAD has found since it first gathered data in the 2005-06 season.

Of the 8.8% of LGBT characters

  • 42% were gay men (a total of 47 characters)
  • 25% were lesbian
  • 29% were Bi+ characters make up 29 percent
  • 4% were transgender characters

The report also noted that last year, out bisexual actor Alan Cumming was the first gay lead in a U.S. scripted broadcast drama on CBS’ new series ‘Instinct’.

representation LGBT media.PNG

However, closer analysis may reveal that although representation of LGBT characters is more common than ever, these representations may not be that positive compared to straight characters. Stefania Sarrubba argues that all of the LGBT characters in Game of Thrones are killed off before the end of the series, except for Yara Greyjoy, who does something powerful at the end of season eight (takes back the Iron Islands), but we don’t actually see this: the show ends focusing on all the straight characters. 

The LGBT community and new media

The representations of LGBTs on new media are generally more positive than in mainstream media, possibly because the content is user-generated.

Social media sites have been used to generate support for same sex marriages and companies such as Facebook and Twitter seem to be broadly supportive of the LGBT community.

Facebook highligeted its support for the LGBT community with its Celebrate Pride Rainbow Filter in 2015 and there were 3.6 million tweents in 2015 that used the #lovewins relating to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalise same sex marriage.

However, research by the University of Alberta tracked all public tweets in the period 2012-15 that used four negative terms about the LGBT community and recorded 56.5 million homophobic comments.

In 2018 Stonewall recently launched its BAME LGBT Voices documentary series to give more a voice/ presence to the diverse range of ethnicities and sexualities which are often under-represented in mainstream media, one such example:

BAME LGBT media stonewall.PNG

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The Two Step Flow Model of Audience Effects

The two-step flow model of audience effects was derived by Katz and Lazarsfeld (1965) which views the audience as active and influenced by influential opinion leaders, rather than directly by media content.

Katz and Lazarfeld argued that social networks were dominated by opinion leaders, who were influential people within social networks with the power to influence how others around them saw the world.

Opinion Leaders are exposed to media content, and they then share their interpretation of that content with the wider audience. Thus media content goes through two stages, with the wider audience being primarily influenced by the views of the active opinion leaders rather than being influenced directly by media content.

two-step flow model.png

Evaluations 

  • + The two step flow model recognises that most people watch media as part of a social network.
  • + This model might be especially useful for understanding the role of parents as opinion leaders.
  • – Of course there is a sense in which the media has a ‘direct effect’ – on the opinion leaders, so there may still be some validity in the hypodermic syringe model.
  • – This model may not apply to people who are socially isolated – and these could be the people who are most likely to be influenced by media content.

The British Media: a very upper middle class institution

Michael Buerk recently lamented the retirement of John Humphrys from Radio Four’s today programme – because his departure means one less working class voice on the BBC: once Humphrys goes all of the remaining Today presenters will have been privately educated.

In fact Buerk suggests that Humphrys further represents an older generation of media presenters: he broke into media in a more meritocratic age, when it was possible for ordinary working class kids to be socially mobile and get ‘middle class jobs’.

john humphrys.PNG
John Humphrys: the only working class presenter in the BBC village?

Today it seems this is much harder, and there’s a lot of evidence that our media companies are stuffed full of middle class media professionals, with the working classes woefully underrepresented behind the scenes.

Below I summarise some of the stats, all of which offers support for the neo-marxist theory of ownership and control of the media.

Surveys on the class backgrounds of media professionals show they are overwhelmingly upper middle class

Research conducted by Sam Friedman of the London School Economics found that

67% of Channel 4 staff had parents who worked at professional or managerial level and only 9% identify themselves as coming from a working class background.

The BBC came out best, but still had 61% of staff reporting they were from upper middle class backgrounds. 17% of staff and 25% of BBC management when to private school, well above the 7% for the population as a whole.

ITV only provided data for those in senior management roles, so are probably even more upper-middle class than Channel 4.

OFCOM has criticized the BBC for being too white, middle-aged and middle-class, and being out of touch with a wide tranche of the UK population.

Stef McGovern argues that BBC needs to do more to recruit people from working class backgrounds, and she even thinks that she’s paid less because she’s not posh, suggesting that people from wealthy backgrounds such as Fiona Bruce are able to negotiate better pay deals, at least partly because of their class.

Why are media professionals mainly upper middle class?

This brief article from the inews suggests that part of the reason the BBC and Channel 4 are so middle class is because they are both based in London, as are 2/3rds of media jobs. It also reminds us that to break into a job in media, people typically have to do long internships for very low pay, which is only possible with several months of parental support, which is much easier for upper middle class parents with 6 figure salaries to be able to afford.

According to a recent OFCOM report on how people of different socio-economic backgrounds are portrayed in the BBC:

  • working class people generally feel as low there are fewer representations of them than there are of the middle classes.
  • One programmer from the BBC even said that: “Too often people [from working class backgrounds] are merely the subject of documentaries made by white middle-class people for white middle-class people”.

The hypodermic syringe model of audience effects

The hypodermic syringe model believes that the media can have a direct and immediate effect on the audience. This model sees the audience as a ‘homogeneous mass’ (all the same), as passive and believing what they see in the media without questioning the content.

It is thus possible for content creators to use their media productions to manipulate vulnerable audiences into thinking or acting in certain ways.

The culture industry 

This theory of media effects is associated with neo-Marxists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the 1940s, who had managed to escape Nazi Germany and resettled in America.

They noted that there were similarities between the ‘propaganda industry’ in Nazi Germany’ and what they called the ‘Culture Industry’ in the United States.

culture industry.PNG

Adorno and Max Horkheimer theorised that popular culture in the USA was like a factory producing standardized content which was used to manipulate a passive mass audience.

They argued that consumption of the ‘dumbed down’ content of popular culture made people passive and false psychological needs that could only be met and satisfied by the products of capitalism.

The ultimate function of the culture industry was thus to manipulate audiences into becoming good consumers and keeping capitalism going.

Further evidence that the media can have direct effects on a passive audience

One of the earliest examples is the audience response to Orson Welle’s radio adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds‘ in 1938.

War of the Worlds is a fictional story about Alien invaders coming from Mars and killing very large numbers of people in the process. The original radio adaptation was done in the style of a news report, and some of the listeners who tuned in after the show had begun (and so missed the introduction to it) actually believed they were hearing a news report, packed their cars and fled to the country.

Feminist sociologists such as Susi Orbach and Naomi Wolfe have highlighted how the ‘beauty myth’, especially the representations of size zero as normal, have encouraged an increase in eating disorders, especially among young women, as well as an increase in mental health problems.

More recent evidence suggests that the campaigns behind both Trump and Brexit used sophisticated targeted advertising to nudge voters into voting for Trump and Brexit, suggesting the media can have a very direct and immediate effect on specific populations (even if such campaigns didn’t treat the audience as a ‘mass’ and so this is only partial support the Hypodermic Syringe Model).

Imitation or Copycat Violence

One of the most researched areas of media effects is that surrounding the relationship between media violence and real-life violence. There is some evidence that media violence can ‘cause’ people to be more violence in real-life…

The Bandura ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment is evidence that media-violence can ‘cause’ children to act more aggressively when given the opportunity to do so. Bandura showed three groups of children real, film and cartoon examples of a bobo-doll being beaten with a mallet. A further group of children were shown no violence. The children were then taken to a room with lots of toys, but then ‘frustrated’ by being told the toys were not for them. They were then taken to a room with a mallet and a bobo-doll, and the children who had seen the violent examples (whether real, film, or cartoon) imitated the violence by beating the doll themselves, while the children who had seen no violence did not beat the doll.

Desensitization 

Newson (1994) theorised that the effects of media violence on children were more subtle and gradual. She argued that continued exposure to violence in films over several years ‘desenstised’ children and teenagers to violence and that they came to see violence as a norm, and as a possible way of solving problems. She also argued that television and film violence tended to encourage people to identify with the violent perpetrators, rather than the victims.

Newson’s research led to increased censorship in the film industry – for example, the British Board of Film was given the power to apply age certificates and T.V. companies agreed on a 9.00 watershed, before which shows would not feature significant sexual or violent scenes.

Criticisms of the hypodermic syringe model

Firstly, this model may have been true in the 1940s when the media was relatively new and audiences less literate, but in today’s new media age, audiences are more likely to criticise what they see rather than just believing it.

Secondly, the hypodermic syringe model treats audiences a ‘homogenous mass, but today’s audiences are more diverse than in the past, so this model is less applicable. This post offers a more nuanced counterpoint: it theorises that the masses were ‘willingly misled’ and thus co-produced a false reality in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

Thirdly, it’s too simplistic a theory to explain social problems – societal violence has many causes, and it’s all too easy to scapegoat the media.

Fourthly, where Bandura’s imitative aggression model is concerned, this was carried out in such an artificial environment, it tells us little about how violence happens in real life.

Sources 

This post from Marxists.org provides a nice summary of Adorno and Horkheimer’s views on the culture industry.

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book

A Level Sociology of Media Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level Sociology of the Media Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 57 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within the sociology of the media
  2. 19 mind maps in pdf and png format – covering most sub-topics within the sociology of the media.
  3. Short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – three examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ questions and three of the 10 mark ‘analyse’ with item questions, all take from the specimen paper and the 2017/2018 exam papers.
  4. Three essays and essay plans, taken from the specimen paper and 2017 and 2018 exam papers.

Media Representations of women

Women have historically been underrepresented and misrepresented in stereotypical roles within mainstream media.

This post focuses on symbolic annihilation, the cult of femininity and the male gaze as examples of this, and then looks at whether things have changed in recent decades.

Under-representation and symbolic annihilation

Gaye Tuchman (1978) developed the concept of Symbolic Annihilation to refer to the under-representation of women in a narrow range of social roles, while men were represented in a full range of social and occupational roles.

Tuchman also argued that women’s achievements were often not reported or trivialised and often seen as less important than things like their looks

According to Tuchman, women were often represented in roles linked to gender stereotypes, particularly those related to housework and motherhood – a good example of this being washing powder advertisements in which mothers and small daughters are working together, while men and boys are the ones covered in mud. This post has some excellent examples of such stereotypes.

Ferguson (1980) conducted a content analysis of women’s magazines from the end of WWII to 1980 and found that representations were organised around what she called the cult of femininity, based on traditional, stereotypical female roles and values: caring for others, family, marriage, and concern for appearance.

Ferguson noted that teenage magazines aimed at girls did offer a broader range of female representations, but there was still a focus on him, home and looking good for him.

The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in 2006 found that there was little coverage of women’s sport, but what little coverage there was had a tendency to trivialise, sexualise and devalue women’s sporting achievements. HOWEVER, this later example may be something that has changed considerably over the last decade (see below).

Misrepresentations (myths and stereotypes)

In ‘The Mouse that Roared’ Henry Giroux argued that women were represented in a narrow, restricted and distorted range of roles.

Supporting evidence for Giroux lies in the historical representation of female characters in Disney Films – where the typical female character is a sexualised yet delicate princess who needs to be rescued by a stronger male character.

Examples of where Disney reinforces female stereotypes include:

  • Snow White – who cleans the house of the male dwarves and is eventually rescued by a male prince because she is pretty.
  • Beauty and the Beast – In which Belle endures an abusive and violent beast in order to redeem him.
  • Ariel – who gives up her voice to win the prince with her body.
  • Mulan – who wins the war almost single handed only to return home to be romanced.

This blog post from Society Pages is well worth a read on this topic.

Laura Mulvey ‘The Male Gaze’

Laura Mulvey studied cinema films and developed the concept of the Male Gaze to describe how the camera lens eyed up the female characters for the sexual viewing pleasure of men.

The Male Gaze occurs when the camera focuses on women’s bodies, especially breasts, bums and things, and spends too long lingering on these areas when it isn’t necessary.

The male gaze of the camera puts the audience in the perspective of the heterosexual men – woman are displayed as a sexual object for both the characters in the film and the spectator – thus the man emerges as the dominant force and the woman is passive under the active (sexual) gaze of the man.

The overall effect of this is that women become objectified as sex objects, rather than being represented as whole people.

Mulvey argued that the Male Gaze occurred in film because heterosexual men were in control of the camera.

Video summarizing all of the above:

This is a very useful vodcast outlining the classic theories of the poor representation of women in the media historically: 

Changes to the representations of women?

The roles of women in society have changed considerably since these historical analyses of women’s representations: since the 1970s women now occupy a much wider range of roles and equality with men.

David Gauntlett in ‘Media Gender and Identity’ argues that there has been an increase in the diversity of representations and roles of women in the media since the 1970s, and a corresponding decrease in stereotypical representations, which broadly reflects wider social changes.

The representation of women in films

There have been several films in recent decades with ‘strong’ lead female characters who are fierce, tough and resourceful, and thus arguably subvert hegemonic concepts of masculinity. Arguably a watershed moment in this was the 1979 film ‘Alien’ in which the female lead character Ripley outlives her male colleagues and ultimately kills the Alien threat.

Since then a number of female heroines have featured as the lead characters in various action movies such Terminator 2, the Tomb Raider films, Kill Bill, and The Hunger Games.

However, rather than subverting hegemonic concepts of masculinity, it could be argued that such films still perpetuate the ‘beauty myth’ as all the above lead female characters are slim and attractive.

Katniss Everdeen – a positive representation of women?

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a simple test which presents a quantitative analysis of the representation of women in relation to men in film. To pass the test a film has to pass three tests…

  1. It has to have at least two (named) women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. Above something other than a man

The website above allows you to search for films which passed the test by year, and there is clear evidence that female characters are more visible and independent year on year, but there are still many films which do not pass this simple basic test.

The representation of women in Game of Thrones

At first glance, there seem to be a number of positive female characters in Game of Thrones – the assassin and ultimate killer of the Ice King Arya Stark being the most stand-out example, with other positive female characters including Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Sansa Stark (once she gets through her abusive relationship).

However, various feminist commentators have argued that all of these positive representations are let down by the end of series eight with Brienne falling apart emotionally because of her love for Jamie Lannister, Daenerys literally going mad, Sansa apparently being strong because of her previous abusive relationship (rather than in spite of it), and with all the anonymous women cowering in the crypt during the battle with the Ice King, while all the anonymous men are outside fighting.

A further Feminist argument is that all of these women are portrayed as strong individuals who are strong because they adopt male characteristics, and ultimately it is male violence which wins the day rather than more diverse forms of feminine power.

Positive representations of women in 2019?

 

The representations of women in the news

 In 2015 the Global Media Monitoring group conducted quantitative content analysis of 1960 sources covering 431 announcers and reporters.

They found that:

  • The overall presence of women as sources was 28%.
  • Compared to 2010 data, the number of women sources as a proportion of all sources, had decreased by 3 per cent.
  • Women continued to remain largely confined to the sphere of the private, emotional and subjective, while men still dominate the sphere of the public, rational and objective.
  • Women were significantly under-represented in hard news stories and in all the authoritative, professional and elite source occupational categories and are, instead, significantly over-represented as voices of the general, public (homemaker, parent, student, child) and in the occupational groups most associated with ‘women’s work’, such as health and social and childcare worker, office or service industry worker.

Looking  at the function women performed in stories, their contribution as experts (20%) and spokespeople (25%) were low,  instead, they were mostly called upon to voice popular opinion (54%) or speak from their personal experience including as eye-witnesses or speak from their own subject position.

The persistence of the Beauty Myth?

Tebbel (2000) argues that women are under more pressure than ever before to conform to the Beauty Myth. She argues that the body and faces of real women have been symbolically annihilated, replaced by computer manipulated, airbrushed, artificially images.

Killborn argues that media representations present women as ‘mannequins’ – size zero, tall and thin, and with perfect blemish-free skin.

Orbach further argues that the media continues to associate slimness with health, happiness, success and popularity

The representations of women in advertising

 Some recent evidence seems to challenge the persistence of the Beauty Myth….

There seems to have been progress in this area in recent years. In 2015, Protein World launched its ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign, and while this clearly reinforced the Beauty Myth stereotype, it prompted a significant backlash with several of the advertisements being vandalised, and many women posting images of their ordinary bodies on social media as a criticism of the overt body shaming involved with Protein World’s advert.

Since 2015, there has been an increase in the diversity of representations of women in advertising, for example:

  • Dove‘s Real Beauty‘ campaign72 featured a diverse range of body shapes and ethnicities.
  • Sport England has been running its successful ‘This Girl Can‘ campaign since 2015, which has since evolved into the ‘fit got real’ campaign:

In 2017, The Advertising Standards Authority launched new guidelines on avoiding gender stereotyping in advertising and in 2019 banned two ads from airing in the UK because they reinforced gender stereotypes.

Finally, UN women has recently launched its ‘Unstereotype Alliance‘, which challenges gender stereotypes in advertising on a global scale. Supporters of this initiative include advertising industry companies such as Unilever, P&G, WPP, Diageo, Google and Facebook.

A Level Sociology of Media Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level Sociology of the Media Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 57 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within the sociology of the media
  2. 19 mind maps in pdf and png format – covering most sub-topics within the sociology of the media.
  3. Short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – three examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ questions and three of the 10 mark ‘analyse’ with item questions, all take from the specimen paper and the 2017/2018 exam papers.
  4. Three essays and essay plans, taken from the specimen paper and 2017 and 2018 exam papers.

 

The U.K. now bans ads which reinforces gender stereotypes

In 2017 the Advertising Standards Authority published a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, prompted (among other things) by the hundreds of complaints it had received from the public about Protein World’s 2015 ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign.

beach body ready.PNG

That particular advert led a public backlash, with several people posting images of themselves and their ‘ordinary’ bodies in bikinis, vandalism of some the posters, as well as making the advertising industry reflect on how it should be representing women.

The ASA’s 2017 report identified six categories of gender stereotypes in adverts:

  1. Roles Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender
  2. Characteristics Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender
  3. Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype or making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way
  4. Sexualisation Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner
  5. Objectification Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts
  6. Body image – Depicting an unhealthy body image

Two years on from the report and ads are now being banned from UK television for representing men and women in stereotypical ways.

One example is Volkswagon’s recent electric Golf ad which shows men actively doing a range of dynamic activities (such as exploring space) and closes with a woman passively sitting on a bench with a pram, watching the car go by:

A second example is this Philadelphia ad, which was banned for depicting men as poor child carers, with one of them accidentally putting his child on a food conveyor belt in a restaurant:

An effective mechanism for combating gender stereotypes in advertising?

The very fact that the ASA is now censoring ads for representing men and women in narrow stereotypical ways suggests that we should see less gender stereotyping in adverts in the future: now that ads have actively been banned from UK screens for failing to conform to these new standards, it should make ad makers more sensitive to how they represent men and women: it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to avoid stereotyping, after all, and surely most ad makers would rather make ads that can be broadcast as widely as possible, especially in countries with large consumer economies like the U.K.

The limitation of this is that the ASA only has the power the censor in the United Kingdom, not globally, and the U.K. only makes up 1% of the global population!

 

The postmodern perspective on globalisation and popular culture

Postmodernists see the media as central to globalisation and emphasise the positive effects media globalisation has on society.

Before reading this post you might like to review the concepts of postmodernity and postmodernism and globalisation.

More individual choice

The globalisation of the media means that people are now more aware of hundreds of diverse cultures all over the world, and this gives them more inspiration to break with their own local traditions and live the lives they choose to.

There are also many more consumption opportunities: more choice of films, music, travel opportunities and of course global products.

The boundary between high and popular culture has also blurred: some classical music artists have sought out popular audiences for example, making high culture more accessible to the masses.

Finally, there are more opportunities for individuals to express themselves via social media.

The rejection of metanarratives

Postmodernists argue that media saturation means there are now an incredibly diverse array of voices and opinions online.

This challenges traditional ‘metanarratives’ – or any viewpoint which holds that there is one truth – as is found with traditional religions, political ideologies such as Marxism and science.

As a result of media saturation, people are now more sceptical of the ‘truth claims’ of experts, which means it is harder for those with power to manipulate people because ‘they know better’.

Participatory culture

Audiences are now more involved with the creation of media content, so the global media space is now more participatory than old style one-way media.

Many people create and upload their own content to platforms such as YouTube, or write blogs, or spend time maintaining their social media profiles.

Audiences also contribute by sharing and critiquing other people’s content on social media.

The globalisation of protest

New media has been used effectively to fight oppression.

Spencer-Thomas (2008) conducted an analysis of protests against military violence in Burma – he found that in 1998 very little media attention was received, but that by 2007, once Smart Phones had penetrated the country, widespread global media coverage of the protests was achieved.

Some political campaigners have also used Twitter and Facebook to fight oppression – during the Arab Spring for example. Another example is the use of Facebook by Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive.

Cultural hybridity

Thompson (1995) argues that global media products are modified by local cultures which results in various new hydbrid forms. Bollywood is a good example of this.

The cultural pessimist view of the new media

Cultural pessimists point to the possible downsides of the New Media such as the rise of Fake News, domination of a few media companies, the rise of echo-chambers, the reinforcing of elite power and increasing commercialisation.

Cultural pessimists criticise the cultural optimist view of new media.

cultural pessimist new media

More information is not necessarily a good thing

There may be more information, more news channels and blogs, but a lot this is just copied and modified slightly, or recycled from other places.

Some of the information online may just be ‘fake news’ – deliberately misleading to serve political or corporate ends. The Vote Leave campaign is a good example of this.

More information sources make it more difficult to verify the sources of information, and this is not always possible (in which case you should not use the information!)

information overload may be a problem – having too much data too deal with.

Constant news feeds can lead to us just being ‘distracted by the new’ rather than taking the time to look at one thing in depth. We end up with a shallower understanding of the world as a result.

Domination by media conglomerates

Pessimists argue that rather than the internet being a free space which allows for the free development of individual expression, it has come to be controlled by a handful of big tech companies – namely Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

These companies have invested hugely in New Media in the last decade and they now control not only access to social media sites but also search engines and the web servers which store our information.

There are examples of people being de-platformed without warning or reason on YouTube and Twitter – typically those who hold radical views, suggesting these companies determine who can express what on social media.

So marginalised groups might be able to blog and have a say, but you’ll only be able to find them if these companies allow you!

Echo Chambers

Social Media has led to more polarisation and conflict – Social networks are increasingly isolated from each other into ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ – people find other people with the same views as them and they all follow each other and just reinforce their own views of the world. People are now less likely to see views which challenge their own. As a result, we have a polarisation of opinion. The case of Brexit is a great example of this.

As well as allowing for ordinary people to connect with each other globally, the internet also makes it easier for organised crime to commit phishing (mass emails) and to sell drugs online, among other crimes.

Groups like 4chan are also a good example of the downside of online global communities – largely anonymous groups who organised collective trolling and hacking just for the lols.

Reinforcing Elite Power

Mainstream political parties now run sophisticated advertising campaigns using big data to manipulate the public into voting for them: Trump’s campaign and the Brexit campaign are two examples of this.

Larger political parties and corporations have more money to spend on advertising to keep their biased information at the top of internet search engines such as Google.

The most radical views are censored – while individuals may be free to express any opinion online, some of the most radical have de-platformed.

Politics is much less visible than entertainment on the internet – suggesting critical political thought is ‘drowned out’ more than ever

Surveillance – the ex-CIA analyst claimed in 2015 that the British security services had the technology to access the information stored on people’s smartphones.

Increasing consumption and commercialisation

The internet seems to have turned into a sphere of consumption, where most of what we see is aimed at selling us something. It is hard to read some news sites, such as The Independent, because of the sheer amount of space devoted to advertising.

Companies such as Amazon use the data we collect to find out our preferences and sell it to advertising companies, so they can target ads at users more effectively, thus manipulating them to buy products they wouldn’t normally buy – it’s estimated that 1/3rd of all Amazon purchase are a result of ‘recommendations’ for example.

This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!

 

The ‘murder’ of Policeman Andrew Harper: the perfect news story?

The recent death of Policeman Andrew Harper is possibly the perfect example of a story which ticks nearly every single news value imaginable. P.C. Andrew Harper was tragically killed when he was dragged along by a car while he was investigating a burglary.

Negativity

The unexpected early death of anyone in the prime of their life is a tragedy, but when they’re fresh off their honeymoon having only got married four weeks ago, this sense of tragedy is enhanced.

murdered policeman.png

Personalisation 

The wedding photos of the happy couple have been widely circulated in the media, as was Andrew’s wife Open Letter Tribute to him, all of which encourage us to read the story from the perspective of Andrew’s widow: imagining the tragedy of their life together now cut short.

Unambiguity 

Even though we we’ve no idea whether there was actually any intent behind the killing of Andrew Harper much of the media has simplified this event by labelling it a murder. And even though we can’t be sure who did it, the main suspects are from a local traveller’s site.

This adds to the ‘perfect narrative’ of ‘good cop, keeping us safe’ killed by deviant travellers who harass and steal from good local communities, of which Andrew Harper was firmly embedded, in the ‘protector role’.

NB I’m not saying that this was a simple event, but that’s how it’s been constructed in the media!

Bang in the middle of an elite nation 

Not only did this event took place in Britain, it took place bang in the middle of Britain – in Wallingford in the small home counties county of Oxfordshire. Ticking the ‘white middle class’ norm box perfectly.

wallingford

Frequency

This event happened very quickly, it was over in the course of one night, and it’s not a complex drawn-out thing to understand.

Extraordinariness 

The murder of a policeman is extraordinary, very unusual: only 8 U.K. policemen have been killed in the line of duty since 2010.

Threshold 

Murder is big big news, and the murder of a policeman even more so. Not only this, but the fact that we don’t know who did it led to 10 ‘travellers’ being arrested – which is an unusually high suspect count for any individual crime.

Continuity 

This murder of a policeman ties in well with another recent news story – the stabbing of another policeman only a couple weeks earlier, also while engaged in a seemingly routine operation of stopping a van.

Final thoughts 

This is an extremely tragic event, but it’s also a perfect media event. I do feel sorry for his widow and family, the media are going to be dining out on this for at least the rest of the year.

As if moving on from this wasn’t going to be hard enough already!

 

 

Who uses New Media?

What are the patterns of new-media usage in the UK by age, social class, gender. Is there still a digital divide?

In 2019, almost nine in ten (87%) UK households had internet access, and adults who use the internet spent, on average, 3 hours 15 minutes a day online (in September 2018) (1)

Around 70% of UK adults have a social media account and about one in every five minutes spent online is on social media (1)

The number of households connected to the internet and the use of New Media has increased rapidly in the last decade, but statistics from OFCOM clearly show that there are still differences in new media usage by age, social class and gender.

For an overview of what the New Media are, please see these two posts:

The generation divide

New media usage varies significantly by age.

This is especially clear if we contrast the youngest age groups (as classified by OFCOM) of 16-24 year olds with the oldest of 74+

The differences are less marked, but still clear if we look at a wider variety of age groups. I’ve deliberately selected two consecutive age groups below (45-54 and 55-64) because there appears to be quite a significant drop off in new media usage between these two age categories.

AGE 16-24s 45-54s: 55-64s:

 

AGE 75+
·         99% use a mobile phone

·         79% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         93% have a social media profile

·         1% do not use the internet (2)

·         47% play games online (4)

 

·         98% use a mobile phone

·         69% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         76% have a social media profile

·         7% do not use the internet (2)

·       10% play online games (4)

·         96% use a mobile phone

·         43% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         58% have a social media profile

·         19% do not use the internet (2)

·         5% play online games (4)

 

·         81% use a mobile phone

·         22% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         20% have a social media profile

·         48% do not use the internet (2)

·         5% play games online (4)

 

The social class digital divide

Working-age adults in DE socio-economic group1 households are more than three times as likely as those in non-DE households to be non-users of the internet (14% vs. 4%). (1)

The contrast is best shown by comparing the highest socio-economic group (AB) with the lowest socio-economic group (DE):

Socio-Economic Group AB:

  • 97% use a mobile phone
  • 73% watch on-demand or streamed content
  • 74% have a social media profile
  • 57% correctly identify advertising on Google
  • 6% do not use the internet (2)

Socioeconomic Group DE:

  • 93% use a mobile phone
  • 46% watch on-demand or streamed content
  • 56% have a social media profile
  • 37% correctly identify advertising on Google
  • 23% do not use the internet (2)

The digital gender divide

  • In 2017, women (81%) continue to be more likely to have a profile/ account, compared to men (74%). (4)
  • Women are more likely than men to say they have ever seen content that upset or offended them in social media over the past year (58% vs. 51%). (4)
  • (50%) of men say they are ‘very’ interested in the news (50%) compared to only a third (34%) of women. Twice as many women (15%) as men (8%) are not interested. (4)
  • A quarter of men (24%) play games online, compared to 9% of women. (4)

Conclusions – is there a significant new media digital divide in the UK in 2019?

  • While there does seem to be a very significant generation divide between the very youngest and oldest, the differences between young adults and those in their early 50s is relatively small.
  • There does appear to be some evidence that those in class DE are less well connected than those in class DE with nearly a quarter of adults in class DE not being connected to the internet.
  • There also appear to be quite significant differences by gender: women are more likely to have social media profiles while men are much more likely to take an interest in the news.

Sources

  1. OFCOM – Online Nation 2019 – https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/149253/online-nation-summary.pdf
  2. OFCOM – Media Use and Attitudes Report 2019 – https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/149124/adults-media-use-and-attitudes-report.pdf
  3. OFCOM’s Interactive data link.
  4. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/113222/Adults-Media-Use-and-Attitudes-Report-2018.pdf