For our Social Engineering class, we were asked to propose to work on behalf of a real cause or a fictional one. Using ISIS as an example, how could we use similar social engineering tactics to win converts over to our cause? I decided to create a fictional organization called “Artists for Media Literacy”.
Media literacy is something I was taught in both grade school and high school, although I didn’t know then what it was called. Ever since I’ve been old enough and aware enough to realize what it was, I’ve thought it had the potential to heal many of the ills of our culture if more people acquired the skills. I felt strongly enough about it in 1998 that my first solo art show included a group project in which I encouraged people to send me postcards in the mail based on the theme “Turn Off Your Television”. Here are photos showing this project on the wall at my show, and a graphic for a postcard I sent out to help promote it.
On the left is a view of the gallery showing the TV project on the wall, and on the right is a postcard I made to promote the project.
So this is where my inspiration comes from for “Artists for Media Literacy”. Artists are trained communicators and often have a lot to say about the media and consumerism.
What techniques successfully employed by ISIS would be suitable for our group?
Isis intimidates opponents via well-produced videos, mass executions and hashtag hijacking.
“Artists for Media Literacy” is a philanthropic organization, so there will obviously be no violence or threat of violence. We have no ambition to intimidate anyone to force them to participate – we believe in individual rights and freedom and want people to voluntarily choose to adopt the media literacy techniques we propose. We do want to raise the alarm about propaganda and abusive media – so we will try to influence people to fear the consequences of not using media in a healthy way. We can use well crafted videos to promote the positive benefits of media literacy as well as the dangers of being uninformed.
Hashtag hijacking would lend itself extremely well to our cause because there are trending media-related topics going on all the time that we could hitch an awareness piece too. For example, I can check Twitter right now to see what topics are trending at this url – twitter.com/explore/tabs/trending. #Antifa and #RIP Twitter are trending right now. Those would both be great hashtags to hijack for a media literacy campaign.
Documentaries: we would not have to coerce participation from hostages to produce documentaries touting the benefits of media literacy. The challenge would be making them engaging and accessible.
Press releases: our work would be of interest to many news outlets if we target the right ones.
Instagram: this is a social media platform particularly friendly to artists, so we’d benefit from heavy use. Here is the Instagram account for the Back To Our Roots Art Show last year promoted by Webster University students – www.instagram.com/back.to.our.roots.art/. As a participant in the show, I can vouch for it’s usefulness in helping me keep track of deadlines, inspiring my vision for the work I was producing, and helping me promote the show to my social networks via attractive, branded and shareable content.
Civic forum boards: unlike ISIS, our boards would not need to be encrypted necessarily, but they should be secure to protect us from hackers.
Secure messaging: normal consumer level communications platforms should be adequate.
Battlefield drones: We won’t have battlefields in the sense that ISIS would, but if we ever have any outdoor events we could use drones to get interesting footage for videos. I’ve seen drones used that way at historic preservation events to attract interest by showing how well attended the event was and the extent of support for our cause, preserving the Gasconade River Bridge in Hazelgreen, Missouri. The organizers have succeeded in attracting large crowds in multiple years, including international Route 66 fans.
P.W. Singer, and Emerson Brooking, “How ISIS Is Taking War to Social Media”, Popular Science Magazine, 2015. Accessed through course module, 16 April 2021.
I turned in my final paper for Media Organization Regulations last night. It was already a lot longer than it needed to be for the assignment, but I would have kept writing more if I had more time, right or wrong!
I am not an attorney or law student. Edit 12-22-20 – I found and fixed a couple of typo-type errors in the Works Cited section.
After seeing my grade, I did ok on this paper but I didn’t do great. I want it to be great. My professor left me some comments about things she thinks I should have included. It is possible that I will publish a revised version of this paper incorporating the professor’s suggestions. When/if I do that I will have to double-check how to give proper credit for that sort of thing in an academic paper in the MLA format because I’m being trained in academic writing and academic integrity as I go as well as in course material. Before starting this degree in 2019 I hadn’t written an academic paper since 1993. What you will read below is unedited from when I submitted it except for two typos in the credits section. When/if I revise it further I’ll make that clear in the proper format.
At the end I have links to sources, and after that links to other posts on this blog that are on related topics in case you think the subject is interesting and want to read more. I’ll also link to the Pinterest board I use to help collect and organize sources I might use. Enjoy!
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
20 December 2020
Can Laws Protect The Public From The Media?
Physical abuse of women in history has been mostly allowed to go on without consistent punishment until the 1990s. Hundreds of years of beliefs that abuse victims deserve it, that the perpetrators who are punished are the real victims, or that abuse victims must be lying will likely take generations to diffuse because they were validated by hundreds of years of attitudes as well as the lack of prohibitive laws. Another obstacle abuse victims have to face is a lack of enforcement even when there were applicable laws on the books (Bancroft 321).
In our culture, physical violence against domestic partners is slowly becoming less acceptable. It is not as common as it used to be for family members, neighbors, or bystanders to look the other way when they witness abuse. Some schools even teach children that they are entitled to safety from family members in their home instead of only strangers outside of it when they are teaching them how to call 911 for help (Bancroft 293).
Even though emotional and economic abuse can inflict severe harm, there are not as many legal preventive measures or remedies available for mental abuse as there are for physical violence (Bancroft 293). It is difficult to promote awareness of the seriousness of emotional abuse when physical abuse has only been taken seriously in very recent history (Bancroft 321).
Negligent infliction of emotional distress, or NIED, is a tort that can be used in a suit against someone who carelessly caused emotional harm to another person (Trager et al 184). A plaintiff hoping to win such a suit must be able to prove the following facts (Trager et al 184):
The defendant had a duty to use due care in interactions with the plaintiff.
The defendant acted negligently while failing to use due care.
The plaintiff has suffered injury.
The injury can be proven to be caused by the plaintiff’s negligent actions.
Attempts have been made to bring NIED lawsuits against the media as well as individual abusers, but they usually are not successful (Trager et al 185). It is difficult for the plaintiff to prove proximate cause, that is, a reasonable finding that the defendant’s actions were directly to blame for the plaintiff’s injury (Trager et al 184). It is theoretically much easier to prove that a media plaintiff was negligent because there are ample studies showing how media members should behave if they care about the public’s well-being, but negligence alone is not enough to win a suit (Trager et al 184-185).
If the behavior of the media defendant is so outrageous that “a civilized society” would consider it “intolerable and beyond all bounds of decency” then the potential tort might rise to the level of intentional infliction of emotional distress, or IIED (Trager et al 179). The plaintiff must still prove direct causation (Trager et al 179). In addition, if the plaintiff is a public figure, the defendant must be proven to have acted with actual malice, that is “publishing with knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth” (Trager et al 181). Even actual malice is sometimes not actionable if the courts interpret the defendant’s actions as satire or parody, or if the subject of the offending speech is about a matter of “public concern” (Trager et al 184).
One reason the media has so much latitude is because the founders of our country considered a free press and freedom of speech to be so important that they specified those rights in the First Amendment (Baran and Davis 30). When members of the media are criticized for having harmful effects on our culture, they argue that they are not that influential, that they reflect society but don’t have the power to shape it. At the same time, the media tells advertisers they can give them a good return on their investment and if an organization is of any significant size, be it government, nonprofit, or business, they spend money and resources on maintaining a public relations department (Baran and Davis 30). A belief that media IS very influential is apparently coming from somewhere.
There has been disagreement among theorists, academics, government officials, media companies and the public about how legally free from restraint the media should be ever since there was such a thing as media (Baran and Davis 62-63). The idea of technocratic control was considered and debated in the United States but ultimately rejected, at least if it was framed as control by the government. Technocratic control is “direct regulation of the media” by technocrats, people considered to possess the correct values and skills to regulate media for the welfare of the public (Baran and Davis 62). One of the reasons government technocratic control was rejected in the United States in the 20th century was because there was no consensus on who was qualified to have that power (Baran and Davis 62-63). Regulations that applied in certain situations that passed First Amendment tests have been enacted over the years and are sometimes thrown out by the courts when re-tested. The limits are renegotiated constantly from both the direction of greater freedom and the direction of more control (Baran and Davis 63).
Part of my incentive in choosing in this paper to examine parallels between domestic abusers and media abusers is the observation that both groups have the characteristic of constantly testing limits, like predators looking for weaknesses and loopholes to see what their targets and society will let them get away with. Awareness and legislation often lag behind the latest technological developments and technocracy strategies. Another reason is that abusers and media utilize many of the same manipulative techniques. Does the media share some of the same motivations as domestic abusers? Neither group can be trusted to be forthcoming about their intentions because of course they are more effective when their tactics are opaque – one can only judge by observing patterns of behavior.
There is another parallel between domestic abuse and media behavior that could be examined from a regulatory perspective. In considering the pattern of legal intervention in abuse, physical harm was an obvious effect of abuse to be considered worthy of attention by the law. When consumer products began to be subject to regulation in the United States, the danger of physical harm to the public was also an issue addressed early on.
Consumer protection laws began to be enacted in some US states as early as the mid-1800s to protect the public from adulterated food and drugs (Pride and Ferrell 78). The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created to assume responsibility, formerly handled by the Department of Agriculture, for testing agricultural products (“The History of FDA’s…”). The 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act was a continuation this public safety work as the regulatory body evolved into what we know as the FDA by the 1930s (“The History of FDA’s…”). There was a further push for increased legislation designed to reduce physical harm from products, their advertising, and labeling in the 1960s and 1970s (Pride and Ferrell 78). Today there are several additional federal agencies created to help protect consumers. Some of the major ones are the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Pride and Ferrell 80).
Ideas are also products – they can be sold using a lot of the same strategies as tangible goods. By the 1930s, the notion of regulating harmful ideas was part of the discussion and remains so to the present day (Baran and Davis 68). An influential compendium of the state of scholarship on media effects, The Effects of Mass Communications, was published by Joseph Klapper in 1960. Klapper’s opinion was that media was more of a reinforcer than a dictator of current culture because there were mitigating social institutions in peoples’ lives such as churches, families and schools (Baran and Davis 114). If media actors with self-serving and destructive intentions wanted a strategy for how to break down society to bend more people to their will, it was made readily available to them, however unintentionally, by Klapper and other theorists.
Consumer protection laws of a sort directed at media and advertising do currently exist under the auspices of agencies like the FTC and the FCC. Normally these laws don’t deal much with physical harm unless the issues are safety related. Physical injury is however sometimes considered as part of the negligent infliction of emotional distress tort in some states. It is acknowledged in some jurisdictions that physical assault can cause emotional distress, and severe emotional distress can cause harmful physical symptoms and disease (Trager et al 185). If the link between the media and emotional abuse is better studied and acknowledged, and the link between emotional distress and physical disease is likewise given due consideration, a pathway to further regulation of media to protect consumers might be blazed through studies of the physical sufferings of those harmed when media abuse goes too far.
The FCC is permitted to regulate broadcast media to an extent because the airwaves are considered the property of the people. Broadcast stations are thought to have a responsibility to the public due to the people’s ownership of the airwaves (Trager et al 402-403). It is less clear who, if anyone, “owns” the internet, but it was originally partially developed by US taxpayer-supported institutions (Press). As of 2015 the amount of foreign ownership of US communications companies was capped at 25% with the then-current FCC commissioner proposing to raise the cap on foreign investment or eliminating it entirely (Traeger et al 404). The policy that foreign companies would be allowed to own anything that US citizens own or paid to develop is something the FCC could reconsider by following their normal procedures for a change of policy (Traeger et al 401). Any corporation, association or individual affected by FCC regulations has the legal right to a challenge in Federal appellate court (Traeger et al 402). Foreign exploitation via international internet scams is rampant all over the world but we still allow access to our citizens by criminals from foreign countries who don’t participate in international anti-fraud measures (“Report international scams…”). Economic exploitation tips the power balance in the abuser’s favor (Bancroft 156).
Tactics Employed by Domestic Abusers
Here are some of the techniques that abusers use to gain control over their victims (Bancroft 74, 145-146, 213-214, Dwyer 55-56).
Ridicule, name calling, insults, put-downs, and sarcasm
Distorting what was said
Accusing you of doing what they do, or thinking the way they think (projection)
Using a tone of absolute certainty and final authority – “defining reality”
Turning your grievances around to use against you
Criticism that is harsh, undeserved, or frequent
Provoking inappropriate guilt
Playing the victim
Threatening to harm you
Discrediting, spreading rumors
Getting other people to put pressure on you
Spreading confidential information (doxxing)
Presenting one face in public and another in private to gain credibility and trust
Using events from the past or situations that can’t be changed as a reason a person should accept poor treatment
Separating the target from sources of support
It is not easy sometimes for us to imagine that our entertainment providers would knowingly set out to abuse us, the consumers. People often feel warm emotions toward celebrities and providers of entertainment. A paper by Eduard Sioe-Hao Tan suggests why that might be the case (Tan 45). “A lay person’s understanding of what it means to entertain somebody involves being amusing or giving pleasure, activities associated with being a good host to a guest.” The entertainer may be considered responsible for voluntarily rendering a personal service to the viewer (Tan 45).
One trap that is easy for consumers to fall into is to forget that we are not really the ultimate customers for most entertainment products – the advertisers and sponsors are. We may be the audience, but we are not the customer. When considered in that light, it is a little more understandable why entertainment and media companies would be willing to actively abuse us, or at least not care if we become collateral damage.
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Jim Taylor proposed that what we now call “popular culture” is no longer a reflection of the genuine culture of the people, but an artificial, media-cultivated corporate culture that he names “synth culture” (Taylor “Popular Culture…”). Cultivation Analysis is the theory that the media present a view that does not necessarily reflect reality, but because people believe it does, reality changes to conform to the media (Baran and Davis 287). As early as the 1950’s, architects were creating buildings and landscapes to conform to movie and television versions of reality. The cultural landscape known as Disneyland, for example, was the product of a media corporation and was not merely appealing to existing media-cultivated tastes but actively implanting them (Hine 150-152).
If the culture we have is not based on the genuine culture of the people but is deliberately planted there by the media, I postulate that if we don’t already have it, we will end up with a government that is no longer “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but is of the self-appointed media technocracy whose primary interest is in exploiting us (Taylor “Popular Culture…”). It’s obvious which political direction the technocracy wants us to go. If we ask why, the large media corporations have the power to remove questions from public debate through moderating content and banning users with certain views even though they claim immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“Does Section 230’s…”).
The Rewards of Being Abusive
Above I have listed some of abuser’s techniques – now I’ll provide some of the possible incentives that motivate people to abuse other people. Abusers enjoy the following advantages and privileges in life (Bancroft 43, 152, 153-158):
Abuse victims change their behavior and work to bolster the abuser’s self-esteem to win approval or tolerance.
Abusers gain the freedom to behave as they desire without restraint while getting lots of attention.
After being catered to, they get praise for being a great person and improve their public image when they act decent.
The comforts, privileges, and financial advantages of being catered to are too attractive to give up.
The thrill of having power is a seductive feeling.
The abuser can pick and choose low-stakes situations to act altruistic so that they can cultivate a positive image without making any actual sacrifices.
Abusing others can give the abuser temporary relief of frustration at life’s annoyances.
Others can be coerced into performing unwanted tasks or giving up resources, resulting in better quality of life or gratification for the abuser.
When people are deprived of financial resources or financial autonomy, they are much easier to control.
The abuser’s goals are prioritized while others are diminished. The abuser escapes consequences while others who would dare to engage in the same behavior are held accountable.
The abuser receives peer approval from the surrounding culture.
Disunity among a group gives the abuser more power by directing attention into fighting among themselves rather than holding the abuser accountable.
Abuse Examples and Comparisons
Here are a few examples of how members of the media have used abuse techniques to advance their agenda while disregarding the harm to individuals and society.
Abuse Example 1
Abuse benefits: Abuse victims change their behavior and bolster the abuser’s self-esteem to win approval or tolerance. Others can be coerced into performing unwanted tasks or giving up resources, resulting in better quality of life or gratification for the abuser. Financial resources are often something abusers work on transferring from their targets to themselves (Bancroft 155-156).
Abuse tactic: Using a tone of absolute certainty and final authority – “defining reality”.
Media example: The highest status people in our culture tend to be doctors, lawyers, professors, executives, politicians, sports figures and entertainers (Dwyer 19). Some of these people are at least well-educated, but many have no more knowledge or ability about most issues than we do. When people are catered to as though they are of a higher status than the common person, they often feel entitled to treat us as inferior and expect us to defer to their authority (Dwyer 19).
News content producers can be an example of media using their sense of entitlement and branding skills to claim authority they have not really earned. Before the 1970s, news programs were offered as a public service and run at a loss to the station in exchange for the right to use bandwidth on the limited public airwaves. Released from that obligation, many news programs still claim the image of public service while earning large profits by featuring “sensational, sentimental or dramatic” stories that will attract mass audiences for their advertisers (Silverblatt et al 119). In return for their airwaves generating profits for media companies, the public gains at best only low-quality entertainment disguised as news, and possibly manipulation, abuse and ill health.
Some prominent social media companies have recently declared themselves to be authorities on objective truth, supposedly in the service of their users, who they see as not as qualified to judge as their own self-declared technocracy. They employ “fact checkers” to distinguish between beneficial and harmful content. A couple of the areas they recently claim special authority on are Constitutional law and medicine (Lucas, “Does Section 230’s…”). When a technocracy was originally considered for the United States in the 20th century, sufficiently wise people, such as social scientists, religious leaders, the military, the police, Congress and the FTC were considered as members (Baran and Davis 62-63). Investigative journalists have been trying to investigate today’s new technocracy. In documenting the harsh working conditions of Facebook content moderators, journalist Casey Newton found that most of Facebook’s content moderators are employees of outside contractors. At one facility in Phoenix, content moderators are paid $28,800 per year as compared to the average Facebook employee compensation of $240,000 (Newton). Facebook periodically audits the contract workers for accuracy, with accuracy defined as what Facebook decides it is. It is unclear what the educational qualifications are to be a contracted content moderator or a Facebook employed auditor (Newton).
Abuse Example 2:
Abuse benefit: The abuser receives peer approval from the surrounding culture.
Abuse tactic: Provoking inappropriate guilt.
Media example: Netflix aired a documentary showing walruses falling to their deaths from a cliff, claiming the deaths were caused by climate change. In actuality, the falling walruses were chased by polar bears, and possibly were even frightened by the film crew’s disturbing presence in the area and noisy equipment (Foster). Netflix gained the benefit of appearing to be socially responsible while directing attention away from their own possible culpability. As professor of space architecture and author Larry Bell commented in Forbes, phenomena that we used to be taught were natural, such as earthquakes, “hurricanes, droughts, floods, blizzard cold weather conditions and such” are now our fault and we are pressured to feel guilty (Bell).
Many celebrities have shared mis-identified fire photos on social media, claiming they are current and from the Amazon rain forest, when they were sometimes not current and taken somewhere else (Richardson). Perhaps they feel less guilty about their lifestyles for spreading these often unverified messages, while at the same time enjoying social approval from their peers without having to actually sacrifice anything. One of the privileges abusers regularly enjoy is to feel better while others around them feel worse (Bancroft 31).
What is the cost to mental health of this constant bombardment of what some affix the label “tragedy porn”? Therapy for eco-anxiety is a prominent field of mental health with over 120 practitioners known as far back as 2008 (Bell). Sufferers of eco-anxiety have reported shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, fatigue, overeating, bulimia, depression and alcoholism (Bell). 96% of respondents of one study on relatively affluent Americans claimed that eco-anxiety changed their ideas about having children, 6% even going so far as to regret the ones they already have (Carrington). What is it like for a child to grow up as a regret? In one case a seven-month old baby is going to have to find out what it’s like to live through a gunshot wound in the chest as the only survivor of an Argentinian family killed in a murder-suicide pact apparently precipitated by eco-anxiety (Sacks).
Children and adults alike have been taunted with threats that important cultural traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas will be ruined or cancelled because of climate change (Watts). This could be interpreted as doubling down on the effort to induce poor mental health in viewers because religion is one of the well-known weapons against depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, suicidal behavior and poor physical health (Whitley). Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, not a religious one, but gratitude is something both atheists and theists alike can embrace. However, too much gratitude is not good for the advertising business. If people get too satisfied with what they already have, they won’t buy as many new things. The idea that products should constantly be updated in appearance to make old versions obsolete or deliberately made not to last very long became mainstream by the middle of the 20th century in the United States (Hine 66). The media likes to encourage us to buy unnecessary products while at the same time promoting guilt in us because excess consumption is bad for the environment. That behavior results in a triple win for the media/entertainment industry and their advertising clients – they sell more products, appear to be socially responsible for infiltrating our entertainment with guilt messages, and evade accountability for their own environmental misdeeds.
Abuse Example 3:
Abuse benefit: The abuser’s goals are prioritized while others are diminished. The abuser escapes consequences while others who would dare to engage in the same behavior are held accountable.
Abuse tactics: Getting other people to pressure you, discrediting, spreading rumors, ridicule, name calling, insults, put-downs and sarcasm.
Media example: Because they claim immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, social media corporations such as Facebook and Twitter maintain they are not liable for the actions of their users (“Does Section 230’s…”). At the same time, they can allow content they approve of and ban content they don’t approve of, boost content they favor and restrict content they disfavor, and promote or suppress users in an equivalent manner. In that way they can discredit, spread rumors, bully, harass or otherwise pressure whoever they choose by selectively enforcing speech, while avoiding proposed regulation of this privilege by manipulating public opinion to vote for whoever is unlikely to impose regulations that would reduce their technocratic control (“Does Section 230’s…”).
Sophisticated advertisers know what anxieties, fears and insecurities their target audiences are prone to, and they know how to trigger them at will and then offer products and ideas as solutions to the uncomfortable feelings that result (Silverblatt et al 291). Facebook ran a test in 2012 to see if they could go beyond mere curation and actually prompt the type of content users post on their platform by manipulating people’s moods (Meyer). They succeeded, and if there was ever any doubt, everyone now knows that they have the power to recruit their users into unconsciously propagating the media’s agendas and those of their advertisers. Fear and anxiety have been known to be aids to selling products for a long time (Packard 48, 58-59, 221-223). When Vance Packard published his book The Hidden Persuaders in 1957, the techniques advertisers studied to appeal to our fears and anxieties were still new to the public (Hine 28). Even though the methods are no longer new, they still work as the Facebook experiment demonstrates (Meyer). There are a number of possible health related side effects resulting from induced fear and anxiety, including fevers, vomiting, impotence, diarrhea, increased heart rate, fatigue, nausea, sleep problems, reduced ability to fight infections, heart disease, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, substance abuse, social dysfunction and suicidal thoughts (Dyer 33, 197-198, Leonard).
Even with the available legal remedies, there is a limited amount that can be done for a victim of physical or mental abuse unless they decide to stop accepting the abuse and take action to use what help is available to assist in freeing themselves. Many of the harmful mental and physical effects of media can be overcome if individuals make the decision to reclaim their agency and follow up with suitable action. Abused individuals and abused media viewers are groomed in a similar manner with deceptive seductive techniques that hide the true intent of the abuser. Abuse and grooming gradually break down the resistance and health of the target to make the target less able to fight and break free from bondage.
Dangerous and addictive products that are regulated as “vice” products perhaps provide a precedent for the legal system and government agencies to regulate abusive media in a similar manner. “Vice” products are related to activities that are not considered healthy or moral and whose use is controlled to some extent by age-related or other restrictions (Trager 547). Categories of “vice” products currently include alcohol, tobacco, hookahs, e-cigarettes, drugs, gambling, sexually explicit material, firearms and marijuana (Trager 547, 550). In the past some of the methods of combating the harm caused by the misuse of these products has taken the form of public service messages and warning labels. The battle lines which government agencies and commercial interests navigate as they both attempt to advance their opposing goals is constantly in flux, with states and local jurisdictions having a lot of leeway to tighten or loosen regulations on vice products (Trager et al 542-555). If the media is going to intentionally or negligently affect our health, I think a case can be made for providing media literacy information content on their channels in lieu of labeling on media products in exchange for the benefits their corporate owners enjoy at the public’s expense.
Some forms of media regulation have been allowed by Federal government agencies and the courts in the past to promote the ability of citizens to make informed choices about their health, welfare and the consumption of products and ideas. Here are a few examples of past attempts by the FCC.
From 1949-1989 the Fairness Doctrine required broadcast stations to provide programming that presented diverse views on controversial topics of public importance (Trager et al 408).
The personal attack rule required broadcasters to provide a rebuttal forum for the subjects of an-air attacks on their “integrity, honesty, or character”. Because the personal attack rule did not apply to public officials, it had limited power to limit one-sided attacks. Even that protection for private individuals was eliminated in 2000 (Trager et al 409).
Under the political editorial rule, private broadcasters were required to allow legally qualified candidates for public office rebuttal time in response to editorials aired either against the candidate or in favor of a rival. The political editorial rule also ended in 2000 (Trager et al 409). Public broadcasters are not allowed to endorse a candidate but can editorialize on public issues (Trager et al 409), some of which could affect the livelihoods of those who work for public broadcasters and in that case could be one-sided and self-serving. The taxpayers who fund a portion of public broadcasting involuntarily are afforded no opportunity to rebut (Trager et al 417).
Net neutrality was the requirement for internet service providers to treat all internet traffic equally and not set up paid priority service for preferred content (Traeger et al 423). Net neutrality was repealed in 2018 (Morton). Some states have started to create their own net neutrality legislation since it no longer exists at the Federal level (Morton).
There was a time when the four above regulations were considered acceptable under the First Amendment. The First Amendment has not yet changed – not the text of it anyway. I suggest that as a country we consider bringing some regulations back, as they are possible hedges against the technocracy gaining further power over us and increasing their ability to abuse.
Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Berkeley Books. 2002.
Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.
Here is another one of my homework assignments for Media Organization and Regulations class. Please read it if you are interested in preventing financial abuse to yourself or others. Some of this information you probably know but it never hurts to have a refresher on such a critical issue. This paper has been graded but I haven’t changed anything since turning it in yet. I’ll update these comments if I do so later.
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
13 December 2020
Dealing with Deceptive and Unfair Messages
The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, has the authority based on Section 5(a) of the FTC Act to protect citizens from unfair or deceptive commercial messages. A message is considered deceptive if it is likely to mislead a reasonable consumer (“A Brief Overview…”). An unfair practice is one that causes or is likely to cause “substantial injury” which consumers cannot reasonably avoid and there are no “countervailing benefits” to justify it (“A Brief Overview…”).
The first line of defense for consumers is information. The FTC provides a web page with information to help consumers recognize deceptive messages as well as tips on what actions to take if they receive such a message (“How to Recognize…”). Blocking and reporting messages are recommended strategies. The FTC recommends reporting SPAM messages to the app the consumer is using, as well as to the FTC. The FTC investigates complaints and if unlawful activities are found, the FTC will take administrative or judicial action which may eventually result in civil penalties (“A Brief Overview…”).
An example of one case brought by the FTC to get justice and relief for victimized consumers is Federal Trade Commission vs. Ecommerce Merchants, LLC and Cresta Pillsbury, Jan-Paul Diaz, Joshua Brewer and Daniel Stanitski (Federal Trade Commission… 1). The FTC alleged that the defendants were guilty of sending 30 million unwanted SPAM messages that were not only unwanted but deceptive (Federal Trade Commission… 5-6). Just receiving the unwanted messages was financially damaging to the consumers who according to their service contracts possibly had to pay or use credits to receive the messages (Federal Trade Commission… 7). Monies that the deceptive messages generated for the defendants was deemed by the FTC to be unfair and the defendants likely to continue to offend (Federal Trade Commission… 9).
The FTC petitioned for the following actions (Federal Trade Commission… 9-10):
That the activity cease while the case is pending, the assets preserved and accounting performed.
The defendants be permanently banned from sending these messages.
The injured consumers be released from contracts, be paid restitution and refunds, and fraudulently obtained monies be confiscated from the defendants.
Repayment of court costs and other expenses deemed necessary by the court by the defendants to the plaintiff.
If implemented, it is my opinion that the above should adequately punish the offenders and repay the consumers if the victims are allowed to collect not only for the dollar value of what they lost but other expenses such as the time they spent dealing with and documenting the problem. The consumers should also be made whole if they had to pay late fees, have their credit score damaged or other such losses that can occur when a financial problem starts snowballing.
A weakness in this kind of enforcement is apparent when consumers are victimized by international scams. An organization called econsumer.gov, an initiative of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), attempts to unite consumer protection agencies from around the world to fight international scams. With only 40 countries participating, obviously there are many countries that do not cooperate. I think we should consider not allowing messages from countries that don’t participate in this or some similar international anti-fraud program to be sent to US-based text or email addresses.
Everyone I know is probably getting tired of me saying that we have to be wary of the communication technology we use. A lot of it looks like it has a beneficial purpose on the surface but is something else when you dig into it a little deeper. I am a heavy user of social media and technology for marketing purposes so rather than stop using it I’m trying to be more careful about the amount of exposure I have and the type of exposure. I have never used Snapchat. For my homework I had to write about an indecency lawsuit against Snapchat so had to quickly read about how it works and what it does. It is widely believed in some circles that large segments of leaders in media, culture and business are constantly looking for ways to groom minor children for sexual exploitation. Do you agree or disagree? This paper has been graded but I didn’t change anything before publishing. I am not an attorney or law student, I am a Marketing and Advertising Communications major.
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
29 November 2020
The Snapchat Indecency Lawsuit
Snapchat is a messaging app that also features paid advertising and content reformatted and republished from other information providers, known as Discovery partners. When Discover first launched, Snapchat stated on its blog that the Discover partners would be editors and artists who are “world-class leaders” providing “important” content, superior to social media which shows only what is “most recent or most popular” (Team Snapchat).
The Discover feature of Snapchat generated a lot of criticism when it was new. Among other complaints, a lot of users disliked the Discover content being featured prominently in the display and being difficult to ignore if one was using the app for other purposes such as chatting or photo sharing (Dredge). Complaints about sexually offensive material being pushed to minors led to a class action lawsuit against Snapchat citing violations of Sections 230 and 231 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in addition to other violations of State consumer law (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.). Here is a listing of the five causes of action in the complaint (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.):
Violations of Unfair Business Practices Act [Cal. Bus. & Prof.Code § 17200]
Violations of 47 U.S.C. §230
At the time of the lawsuit, around 23 percent of users of Snapchat were between the ages of 13-17 (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.). Snapchat was not accused of singling out underage users to push sexually oriented content to, rather the lawsuit was based on failing to warn users about content that was inappropriate for minors and failing to provide a way to filter out unwanted adult-oriented sexual content (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).
Here are some titles of sampled “important” articles that “world class” editors and artists selected for their users that were alleged by the plaintiffs to violate decency and consumer laws:
“10 Things He Thinks When He Can’t Make You Orgasm”
“F#ck Buddies Talk About How They Kept It Casual”
“23 Pictures That Are Too Real If You’ve Ever Had Sex With A Penis”
In the past, marketers have been criticized for using cute animal mascots to make beer brands more appealing to minors while claiming that they are only marketing to people who are old enough to legally consume the product (Andrews, Newman). It was alleged in the Snapchat lawsuit that some of the images accompanying the offending articles appealed to kids by showing Disney characters paired with sexually suggestive captions and an illustration showing two dolls in a dollhouse engaging in sexual intercourse (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.). In the opinion of the plaintiffs, such images appear to be “directly marketed to minors based on the use of cartoons, childhood relatable images, and very young looking models” (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.).
Indecent material can be defined in different ways. The Supreme Court considers indecent material to be “nonconformance with accepted standards of morality” (Trager et al 457). To the FCC, indecency consists of “sexual expression and expletives” that are deemed harmful to children and therefore prohibited on broadcast television and radio at times of the day when children are likely to be exposed (Trager et al 442, 456).
By selecting and curating content, it could be argued that Snapchat took on the role of information content provider. A Snapchat spokesperson said that “Our Discover partners have editorial independence…” (Gardner). Snapchat may want to give the impression that the discover partners are truly independent but they can be de-platformed instantly if the CEO does not like the content they provided, as former Discover partner Yahoo found out (Flynn).
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 puts most of the burden for avoiding offensive non-broadcast content on the end user, or the parents or guardians of the end user if the person is a minor (47 U.S. Code…). The law distinguishes between an interactive computer service, which is a passive tool for users to publish and consume the content they choose, and an information content provider that selects material for distribution (47 U.S. Code…).
However, I think a case can be made that Snapchat had a duty to warn. Section 230 subsection D, Obligations of interactive computer service, states (47 U.S. Code…):
“A provider of interactive computer service shall, at the time of entering an agreement with a customer for the provision of interactive computer service and in a manner deemed appropriate by the provider, notify such customer that parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist the customer in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. Such notice shall identify, or provide the customer with access to information identifying, current providers of such protections.”
Snapchat does not allow users under the age of 13, and asks for birth dates during the signup process, so they knew that minors were using their app (Doe, John vs. Snapchat, Inc.). In that light, I think it could be argued that Snapchat was at best negligent because of their following actions:
Deliberately choosing brands such as Cosmopolitan, MTV, Comedy Central and Vice to provide content
Pushing the content headlines by making them part of the user interface so that everyone sees them without seeking them out
Pushing the content headlines unfiltered by age
Combining sexual content with images that appeal to children
Dishonesty about their editorial goals and standards for the Discover content
The first part of this post is a homework assignment for Strategic Communications Applications class in which I summarize the barriers to government and citizen communication as stated in our textbook, “Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations”. The second section is my own commentary which includes a lot of my opinion, speculation, and things I’d like the opportunity to delve into further to either prove or disprove. What do you think? Is your government a help to your life, a deadweight on your progress, or a mixture of both?
In our textbook are listed many challenges to successful two-way communication between citizens and government (Broom and Sha 356-366).
1. The government is large and complex with many bureaucratic layers that are difficult and time consuming to navigate.
2. Citizens expectations of what services government should provide keep expanding.
3. There is suspicion about the ethics of the entire profession of public relations and the governments that employ them.
4. Actual incidents of government misinformation have occurred, intentional or just not thorough enough, interpreted as lies or spin, such as in the Iraq war buildup.
5. There is a lot of citizen apathy.
6. There is often hostility of legislators to the public relations profession for budget and other reasons, sometimes causing practitioners to choose other areas of expertise.
7. A lack of journalists to cover government activity thoroughly.
8. When it comes to distributing information, government and media often have different agendas.
9. The job of informing the public is too large for anyone to do well.
10. Unlike a business with a more limited scope, a government has to attempt to please everyone rather than cater to one public in particular.
Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.
My Further Commentary
Here are some factors I’ve considered that the book did not mention, based partly on my own opinion, perceptions and experiences. I’ll put in any links and citations I can find as I go, exploring ideas that I can bolster with other sources.
A. Some members of government agencies represent their departments poorly and abuse their power over citizens, building mistrust. This apparently is what happened to my husband and I when we started putting in a rain garden to help cope with excess storm water. I documented all that in these two blog posts of mine and my final project for this course, Strategic Communications Applications, will partly be an attempt to analyze and find motivation for these actions against us.
B. News media is no longer the watchdog over government that it once was, due to more activist news coverage (Broom and Sha 365), or was perceived to have been. There is more than one reason for this in my opinion.
1. Because traditional “old media” institutions are losing revenue to other channels, they are concentrating more on their social media channels. News on social media tends to be less informative, more opinion based, less accurate, and posted by journalists who are less constrained by ethics or standards than in the past (“The Impact of…”). Much content is only created to get views and clicks in order to sell ads and does not need to have much substance or even be true in order to meet the goals of the media organizations who publish it (Johnstone).
2. Investigative journalism about government takes a lot of time and money to produce, and available money and staff are more limited (Grieco). Journalists can get stories with less time and effort by just repeating statements from sources without confirming or investigating (Johnstone).
“Journalists wanted information to be easily available, yet resented the men and women who made it available. By the mid twentieth century, journalists were dependent on PR practitioners for a large percentage of the stories appearing in newspapers. But admitting their dependence would shatter cherished ideals. Journalists were proud of their ability to uncover stories, verify details, and expose sham. Thus, they were unlikely to admit their dependence, lack of skepticism, failure to verify, and failure to expose every sham.” – Delorme and Fedler, 2003. (Broom and Sha, 226)
3. The attention span of the average person in our country is going down and there is less demand for in-depth stories with enough information to truly be informed (Lords).
4. Issues related to the size and function of government are politicized. The personal philosophy of journalists and companies that employ them is more likely to follow their political interests rather than the well-being of citizens than in the past (“The Impact of…”).
5. The media has less and less credibility with citizens because of selective reporting, staging and manipulating events in order to have a story that they want to be able to report, un-named sources that may or may not even exist and outright fabrication (“The Impact of…”, Johnstone). There are bi-partisan examples of this to be found. I’ll post one example each from two different political sides here for examination.
The Pew Research Center measures the public’s attitudes toward both media and government and finds that news coverage about government is evaluated and consumed very differently according to political affiliation (Jurkowitz, et al).
6. Many media institutions and personalities engage in “gaslighting”, similar to what is often done to the victim in abusive domestic relationships. Media, both entertainment and what is presented as “news” is permeated with attempts to make a lot of people who have done nothing wrong and have accurate and reasonable perceptions of reality to feel ridiculed and ostracized (Battaglio). If this is continued, the “Spiral of Silence” theory posits that certain ideas disappear from public discourse over time (Baran and Davis 268). Our form of government is based on the premise that people should be free to discuss issues in order to make the most rational choice, but there are many forces trying to restrict certain information from being discussed in public (Bufkin, Farrah, Gordon, OyperG, Poulakidakos, Sherr).
For example in 2013 I was literally holding in my hand a letter from my insurance company saying that my insurance was cancelled when an “entertainment” podcast I was listening to was ridiculing people who claimed that their insurance was cancelled, claiming we were liars trying to fool people. This was a podcast that I had a paid subscription to. I sent a scan of my rejection letter to the podcast host along with a cancellation of my subscription to the podcast. The host’s response was to call me stupid and say I was making it up. That’s an example of gaslighting and DARVO, Deny Attack Reverse Victim Offender, a tactic that abusive domestic partners and other abusers use to keep their victims under coercive control (Harsey, Zurbriggen and Freyd, 644). While the majority of media outlets were trying to deny that there were cancellations happening, a web site with Twitter account was set up for people to send pictures of their cancellation letters for publication (Fennell). Twitter shut that account down, then reinstated it later after public outrage (Fennell). Since I did see my letter on that web site and Twitter account and it was unaltered from what I sent them, I judged the things they were posting to be credible unless I was presented with information indicating otherwise. So even in a society where there is supposed to be freedom of speech and the government has limited ability to censor if the constitution is followed, corporations can take political stances and if they don’t want certain things known they can do a lot to censor information that isn’t in their interests (OyperG, Fennell, Bufkin). If we rely for information on a corporation that is in the business of news or providing a communication platform, we can’t assume without investigating that we are getting true or complete information about any issue. While media corporations sometimes have an agenda that is in opposition to a government (Broom and Sha 365), at other times they can be complicit (Woodruff). Citizens must investigate for themselves to try to determine the truth to the best of their ability, and many do not have the time or interest and so remain poorly informed (Broom and Sha 356-366, Poulakidakos 373).
TO BE CONTINUED…
Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.
Battaglio, Stephen, “Hallmark Channel isn’t winning Emmys, but red states love it.” Los Angeles Times, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-hallmark-red-state-20170914-story.html. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.
Bufkin, Ellie, “Twitter Users Appalled by Bias and Censorship Plan Boycott.” Townhall.com/Salem Media, 2020, https://townhall.com/tipsheet/elliebufkin/2020/06/24/conservatives-appalled-by-bias-and-censorship-plan-twitter-boycott-n2571231. Accessed 12 October 2020.
Farrah, Kristen. “Republicans fear prejudice on campus.” Webster Journal, 2019, websterjournal.com/…/republicans-fear-prejudice-on…/. Accessed 4 October 2019.
Fennell, “Twitter Suspends (Then Reinstates) Account Critical of Obamacare.” IndustryDive, 2013, www.socialmediatoday.com/content/twitter-suspends-then-reinstates-account-critical-obamacare. Accessed 12 October 2020.
Gearhart, Sherice, and Weiwu Zhang. “Same Spiral, Different Day? Testing the Spiral of Silence across Issue Types.” Communication Research, vol. 45, no. 1, Feb. 2018, pp. 34-54. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0093650215616456. Accessed 2 October 2019.
Gordon, Sherri. “How to Handle Political Bullying on Facebook.” Dotdash, 2019, www.verywellmind.com/how-to-handle-political-bullying…. Accessed 4 October 2019.
Grieco, Elizabeth. “U.S. newspapers have shed half of their newsroom employees since 2008.” Pew Research Center, 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/20/u-s-newsroom-employment-has-dropped-by-a-quarter-since-2008/. Accessed 11 October 2020.
Hasenfratz, Carolyn. “MSD’s Project Clear and Our Local Water Issues.” Schnarr’s Hardware Company, 2017, schnarrsblog.com/msds-project-clear-and-our-local-water-issues/. Accessed 15 October 2019.
Johnstone, Caitlin. “‘Confirmed’ Is a Meaningless Word In MSM News Reporting.” Consortiumnews, 2020, consortiumnews.com/2020/09/27/confirmed-is-a-meaningless-word-in-msm-news-reporting/. Accessed 11 October 2020.
Jurkowitz, Mark et al. “U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided.” Pew Research Center, 2020, www.journalism.org/2020/01/24/u-s-media-polarization-and-the-2020-election-a-nation-divided/. Accessed 11 October 2020.
Kim, Mihee. “Facebook’s Spiral of Silence and Participation: The Role of Political Expression on Facebook and Partisan Strength in Political Participation.” CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. 2016, pp. 696-702. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1089/cyber.2016.0137. Accessed 2 October 2019.
Lords, Shannon, “As Attention Spans Get Shorter, Content Gets Even Shorter – What Would Ken Burns Do?” Advertising Week, 2020, https://www.advertisingweek360.com/attention-spans-get-shorter-content-gets-shorter-ken-burns/. Accessed 10 October 2020.
Madrigal, Alexis C. “What Facebook Did to American Democracy And why it was so hard to see it coming.” The Atlantic, 2017, www.theatlantic.com/…/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/. Accessed 4 October 2019.
OyperG, “NBC Goes Mask Off – Reveals Twitter Censorship Methods After Devastating Hack.” Bitcoin Warrior, 2020, bitcoinwarrior.net/2020/07/nbc-goes-mask-off-reveals-twitter-censorship-methods-after-devastating-hack/. Accessed 9 October 2020.
Poulakidakos, Stamatis, et al. “Post-Truth, Propaganda and the Transformation of the Spiral of Silence.” International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, vol. 14, no. 3, Sept. 2018, pp. 367-382. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1386/macp.14.3.367_1. Accessed 2 October 2019.
Sarah J. Harsey, Eileen L. Zurbriggen & Jennifer J. Freyd (2017) Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 26:6, 644-663, DOI: 10.1080/10926771.2017.1320777. Accessed 12 October 2020.
Sherr, Ian. “How Facebook censors your posts (FAQ).” CNET, 2016, www.cnet.com/news/how-zuckerberg-facebook-censors-korryn-gaines-philando-castile-dallas-police-your-posts-faq/. Accessed 9 October 2020.
Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.
Swift, Art. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low.” Gallup, Inc. 2016, https://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx. Accessed 24 September 2019.
“Taliban Denies CBS Claim of Endorsing Trump Reelection.” Tasnim News Agency, 2020, www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2020/10/11/2367327/taliban-denies-cbs-claim-of-endorsing-trump-reelection. Accessed 11 October 2020.
“The Impact Of Social Media On News and Journalism.” New York Film Academy, 2014, www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/social-media-in-journalism/. Accessed 10 October 2020.
Winkelmann, Carolyn Hasenfratz. “Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court.” Carolyn Hasenfratz Design, 2019, www.chasenfratz.com/wp/drainage-problems-are-bringing-tom-and-i-to-court/. Accessed 15 October 2019.
Woodruff, Betsy. “Democrat Rep: Insurance Cancellation Letters Should Have Just Said Things Are Getting Better.” National Review, 2013, www.nationalreview.com/corner/democrat-rep-insurance-cancellation-letters-should-have-just-said-things-are-getting/. Accessed 9 October 2020.
I also put some resources I’ve collected as I work on my degree on this Pinterest board:
Here is some more of my homework for Strategic Comminications class at Webster University. The topic of Corporate Social Responsibility is one that we have addressed several times. Here is one of my writing assignments followed by some of my online discussion posts offered as food for thought.
Corporate Social Responsibility and Irresponsibility
“Cuties” is a film recently added to the network Netflix that director Maïmouna Doucouré claims is “social commentary against the sexualization of young children” (Sandler). Enough people were either offended by the topic of the film or the marketing of the film to organize petitions, boycotts and the hashtag campaign #CancelNetflix (Sandler). Netflix did in fact experience a higher number of cancellations than usual in September 2020 as a result of what some interpret as the normalization of pedophilia and child porn (Sandler). In the long term, will the reputation of Netflix be harmed permanently?
Findings in the paper “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility” suggest that the negative backlash against Netflix will be short-lived (Chen 486–524). Sometimes the same firms engage in acts that are perceived as both Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Social Irresponsibility (CSI) (Chen 486-487).
Netflix believes that showing the film “Cuties” is an act of CSR because it exposes and criticizes the sexualization of children, even though enough former viewers to create a noticeable spike in cancellations believes they have displayed CSI instead (Sandler). Netflix formerly employed actor Kevin Spacey to star in their original series “House of Cards” which was very popular and profitable for Netflix (Czarnecki). Netflix lost millions by firing Spacey to demonstrate support for the #metoo movement, but gained a great deal of good will from the public in return (Czarnecki).
It seems logical to assume that it is important to try to avoid the appearance of corporate hypocrisy – the difference between the perception of the values a firm vs. it’s actions. Is Netflix going to be judged as engaging in corporate hypocrisy, and therefore suffer in reputation? According to authors Chen et al in “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility”, hypocrisy does not always do harm to firms (Chen 487-490).
One factor that insulates a corporation against negative effects on its reputation is the perception of warmth (Chen 490). By accepting a significant financial loss to mitigate the “House of Cards” scandal (Czarnecki), Netflix raised their perception of corporate warmth to a great degree by promoting others interests above its own (Chen 490). In addition Netflix is “… a company that’s reinvented itself from being a tech-based internet-content-delivery machine to a creator of world-class content. Those two things combined have translated into an unprecedented reputational gain” (Czarnecki). Is there a rational reason for people to feel warm emotions toward a provider of entertainment as opposed to some other product or service? A paper by Eduard Sioe-Hao Tan suggests why that might indeed be the case (Tan 45). “A lay person’s understanding of what it means to entertain somebody involves being amusing or giving pleasure, activities associated with being a good host to a guest.” The entertainer may be considered responsible for voluntarily rendering a personal service to the viewer (Tan 45).
The perception of competence is another attitude that can mitigate CSI in the minds of stakeholders (Chen 490). Amazon is a company that is considered very competent but lacks the emotional connection enjoyed by it’s book-selling rival Barnes & Noble which connected with shoppers emotions by associating physical bookstores with nostalgic values (Czarnecki). Now that Amazon has evolved beyond just a delivery system of entertainment and is also in competition with Netflix as a producer of original entertainment content, the battle over viewer’s emotions will be interesting to observe. At a time when the spotlight is on racial injustice to a greater degree than is normal, Amazon and Netflix both made donations to organizations working toward racial equality (Hessekiel). Amazon donated 10 million, and Netflix donated 1 million. The amounts could reflect the resources available to each company for such expenditures, the awareness by Amazon that it needs to buy moral credits more than Netflix does, or perhaps some combination of the two. In that light, what is the meaning of WalMart donating 100 million?
Speaking of morality credits, another strategy that a firm can use to protect itself against harm to its reputation is to express aspirational messages of what it would like to do, or about the kind of society it would like to promote. The message of having certain values will give the corporation moral credits even if its behavior doesn’t always back up what it preaches (Chen 487-490). Whether a corporation’s behavior is always consistent or not, a strong investment in CSR does seem to have a protective effect on any future transgressions, intentional or accidental (Chen 517-518).
Chen, Zhifeng, et al. “Corporate Social (Ir)Responsibility and Corporate Hypocrisy: Warmth, Motive and the Protective Value of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 4, Oct. 2020, pp. 486–524. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1017/beq.2019.50. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Czarnecki, Sean, “Netflix tops the list for best corporate reputation.” PR Week, 2019, www.prweek.com/article/1580994/netflix-tops-list-best-corporate-reputation. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Hessekiel, David. “Companies Taking A Public Stand In The Wake Of George Floyd’s Death.” Forbes, 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/davidhessekiel/2020/06/04/companies-taking-a-public-stand-in-the-wake-of-george-floyds-death/#4e3e52d47214. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Sandler, Rachel. “Netflix Sees Spike In Cancellations Over ‘Cuties’ Backlash, Analytics Firm Says.” Forbes.Com, Sept. 2020, p. N.PAG. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=145929254&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Tan, EduardSioe-Hao. “Entertainment Is Emotion: The Functional Architecture of the Entertainment Experience.” Media Psychology, vol. 11, no. 1, Feb. 2008, pp. 28–51. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15213260701853161. Accessed 28 September 2020.
Some of my comments on Corporate Social Responsibility and Facebook
“My view of Facebook is that they are mainly supplying a platform for people to use as they want, with spaces for advertising. Of course there are some extreme things that get banned. Sometimes I think the bans are fair and sometimes I don’t. One thing I have noticed is that they put a voting badge in the interface so you can quickly check your status or register. Let me try it right now…
Ok I noticed they spelled my name wrong on the paper I got back from the election board, so I’m going to have to look it up under the misspelled name. The voting button leads to a voting information page hosted by Facebook which has links to the usual stuff that any web page that is put up for public information would have – how to register, what are the requirements, what are the deadlines, etc. Kind of similar to what a lot of information sites put up about COVID-19 or any other important issue. It’s good for democracy (I know we have a democratic republic) for as many people to vote as possible who are eligible, so that is an example of CSR.
Another feature I like about Facebook is that you can do searches on advertising regardless of whether it’s an ad that would be shown to you normally, and see who paid for it. That helps a lot with transparency.
It’s my opinion that Facebook is not inherently good or bad, like with most things it’s what you do with it that makes your life better or worse. The people at the top running it can be good or bad and the decisions they make do affect people. I think there is potential for abuse and with any platform or any media we have to be informed about how it works and insist on transparency to keep it in check. I am very interested in media literacy and how it can help protect us. I agree with people who say that too much use is not that healthy, and I think that about TV and a lot of other things too. There are a lot of things that can be a good tool used mindfully and purposefully, including food, something which I’m using more mindfully lately with beneficial effect. As we keep learning in this field of study, we all think we are better at determining how to use media than other people, which means other people think they know better than us how to use it safely. I do worry about us serving media rather than media serving us.”
“Speaking of voting, got these in my Walmart grocery pickup bag last night. It’s been awhile since I got a free sample. I like free samples and I like the voter registration encouragement. I tried texting the number and it works. When you get to the page on your mobile device, it gives you English and Spanish options. The data comes from https://www.ballotready.org/ and the card is branded with WalMart and the Consumer Action network. The Consumer Action Network is here – https://www.consumeractionnetwork.org/.
I looked at the web page for the Consumer Action Network and the issues they are involved with currently seem to mostly be based on beer and liquor sales and how to make it easier for consumers to buy beer and liquor. What do you think led to this particular partnership?
I like getting the freebie of the reusable cleaning cloth. It’s good promotion for the product and always fun to try out a free product sample. Is the product good for the environment? There is enough info on the package to research it.
I was unable to get the QR code to work. It might be printed too small to work with my phone.
I’ve been uploading a lot of images to Facebook to move them from my phone to a computer for editing. With my technology setup at the moment it’s a fast way to do it and sometimes gets a discussion going in my feed. So I put my commentary that I’m writing here with the photo in Facebook. Since I was either mentioning voting in my text, or the image had to do with voting, an algorithm popped up in Facebook with a link to the voting information center that they put together. So – both Facebook and Walmart and a lot of people are very invested in voting. I could not detect any political partisanship in either campaign. I’ve always thought that everyone who could vote, should. And try to participate in civic duties and civic activities whenever possible. The government chapter we read in our textbook has some things to say related to this.”
“Also interesting is the choice of graphic on the voting drive card. It sends a specific message to people who know the origin of that type of image, and there are things in it that would resonate with people just because of the elements it contains even if they don’t know the history.”
Here is what I wrote for one of my assignments for my Strategic Communications class. I’m posting it here because I needed a history refresher to write this and some of you out there might enjoy one too. The question put to us was, “Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay engineered “history’s finest public relations job” to gain national acceptance of the U.S. Constitution. Based on your reading of Chapter 4, describe the organized effort they undertook to urge ratification of the Constitution. How did their approach differ from those of the nation’s first publicity agencies, and now in contemporary times?”
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers to make the case to ratify a new constitution featuring a stronger, more centralized Federal government to replace the Articles of Confederation (Thernstrom 174-177). Federalists had appropriated the title “Federalist” and labeled their opponents “Antifederalists” because it sounded better than to call themselves “Nationalists” even though Nationalist was a more accurate term (Thernstrom 175). The climate in which Hamilton, Madison and Jay wrote these articles was one in which 88 out of 100 newspapers in the colonies were Federalist-owned and did not print opposing views (Thernstrom 176). Hamilton sponsored a paper called the Gazette of the United States in order to insure the promotion of his ideas (Bitter 22). Even though he did not necessarily agree with which form Federalism should take, fellow Federalist Madison also used his influence to install a poet sympathetic with his own views as editor of a rival newspaper called The National Gazette (Bitter 22). Even with much press influence in place the Federalists came very close to failing to win ratification as the fear of replacing one type of tyranny with another was well-entrenched, especially among more rural populations (Thernstrom 175-176).
At the time the Federalist Papers were written, newspapers were generally published for specific audiences and not for a mass audience. The majority of Americans were not literate then so what newspapers there were mostly served specific interests (Bitter 21). The Federalist Papers were similar to the era’s papers in that they represented the interests of a group that was very influential but not what we think of today as “the masses” (Bitter 21). Only people who were very involved in politics were much concerned about which form the new government should take (Thernstrom 178).
John Jay, although he only wrote 5 out of 85 Federalist Papers, wrote some of the most influential. He was able to write persuasively by drawing on his personal experience as Foreign Secretary of the national government (Ferguson 223-224). After expressing some of his frustrations, Jay switched to more rational language that was also in contrast to the more fiery tones of Hamilton who wrote “Federalist No. 1” (Ferguson 225). Jay expressed his arguments in language that was beautiful on it’s own merit while conscious of trying to convince the reader of the rightness of his cause by insisting that the more aesthetically pleasing idea is the right idea (Ferguson 227-235).
When more organized public relations firms came into being in the early 1900s, they were responding to the needs of organizations seeking to counter the new phenomenon of mass media. More of the population was literate at this time and newspapers aimed at a mass audience were engaged in a lot of muckraking to advocate for and appeal to a more popular audience (Bitter 21).
The public relations profession further matured as the 20th century progressed, with specialization, increased recognition and milestones obtained by women and minorities. The pace of change accelerated at times of national crisis (Broom and Sha 91-101). Right before the 20th century ended, the internet started to see wide adoption and changed the way we all consume and produce information. Almost everyone now has some kind of a “press” in their possession, so we don’t have to sponsor a newspaper to get our opinions “printed”. However the amount of influence we can bring to bear and the way we use language are still important in determining how effective we are at communicating and persuading so most of the strategies that the Federalist Papers writers used are still relevant in my opinion.
Bitter, John. “Which Came First – Journalism or Public Relations.” Public Relations Quarterly, Fall 1987, pp. 21-22. Accessed 20 August 2020.
Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.
Ferguson, Robert A. “The Forgotten Publius: John Jay and the Aesthetics of Ratification.” Early American Literature, vol. 34, 1999, pp. 223–240. Accessed 20 August 2020.
Thernstrom, Stephan. A History of the American People: Volume One: To 1877. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.
Here is a follow up comment from me.
A lot of what I remember about the Enlightenment era has more to do with Art History than History class, since I took more art history being an art major. I’m going to get out my art history books and refresh my memory on that time period. I didn’t have much time to review this material at the time but I did go on a business trip to Philadelphia in 2009 and I traveled a day early so I could see Independence Hall and some other things. Walking the area around it, I took a lot of pictures of the classical style architecture and statuary of the day and tried to imagine what it was like back then.
Here is my Facebook album of pics from the time. It’s set to Public for viewing.
In Mass Communication class this past fall, I wrote about the following propaganda techniques in my paper “How do we decide which media sources we can trust?” – Name Calling, Glittering Generalities, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, Band Wagon, Impersonation, Emotion, Polarization, Conspiracy, Discredit and Trolling. I found some really interesting information about trolling that I saved in the extra links section below my paper for further study later. Recently in Media and Culture class, we watched a 60 Minutes video report titled “Brain Hacking” which inspired me to do a little experiment on social media the next day.
I saw a meme shared by a friend on Facebook that contained a false but somewhat plausible sounding claim about current political events. I shared it in my Facebook feed, which is public because I use it for marketing as well as other purposes, to see what kind of reaction I would get. I and others made some comments below it that I plan to investigate more and write up in a more polished way later. For now, one of the most important things I observed was that the meme drew comments from people I’ve been Facebook friends with for years (and friends in real life in some cases) who never respond to my more typical, much higher quality content. I can speculate on many reasons why this was so, some of which I may be able to prove and some I may not. One thing I can definitively assert however is the effect of the trolling on this blog, a separate channel from Facebook but with lots of cross-links back and forth. I posted the trolling meme on November 20, 2019 and here is a screenshot I took this morning of my blog stats.
With more research I hope to understand more about how trolling works, but I think it’s pretty clear why so many people do it – it gets attention!
In my current Media and Culture class, one of our recent assignments was to find and analyze examples of a successful political ad and and unsuccessful political ad. I found something really great – a successful political ad about political ads, very interesting for that reason alone, which was also a Facebook trolling experiment perpetrated by a presidential campaign.
Even though “trolling” is a word with negative connotations, I think this is a very successful example and in a way could be considered “good” propaganda as I consider my own trolling test to be. In both cases we tried to be somewhat ethical while trolling by eventually coming clean about what we were doing in order to raise awareness. Regardless of which candidate one supports, I think all can benefit from seeing and analyzing the Warren ad. In order to truly be able to interpret media messages it is a good media literacy skill to be aware of the ad policy on the channel on which you are viewing the content. It’s a hot topic right now in the news as channels scramble to modify their ad policies to bring about the election results they want, appease users who fear “fake news” and trolls, and still get a slice of that fat advertising pie (according to Bloomberg over a billion in 2016 just for the dominant presidential candidates).
The original Warren ad led off with a shocking statement to get attention. After explaining the purpose of lying in the ad, the copy then makes accusations that would take research to prove or disprove which I’m not going to attempt here, but would probably be believed or dismissed by many depending on how the audience has been primed. The photo of Trump and Zuckerberg shaking hands will likely get an emotional reaction out of a lot of people. Even though a handshake is a standard beginning and end to a business meeting, the photo suggests they are partners. I don’t know if the photo was purposely chosen to show eye contact between Mr. Zuckerberg and President Trump with the President appearing to be speaking and Mr. Zuckerberg listening, but it could be interpreted as trying to show the smaller, slighter, younger Zuckerberg as being under Trump’s thrall.
Was the Warren ad effective? When I did research trying to find information about this ad, I learned that it inspired commentary and articles on NPR, CNET, CNBC, The New York Times and others. The media coverage I’m sure is something the campaign wants since their stated goal is to raise awareness of Facebook’s current advertising policy. Based on a quick glance at Warren’s Twitter feed, the amount of likes and shares this ad instigated was a very good result compared to normal results. The call to action at the end is a common feature of many good ads – it lets viewers do something right away if they are so moved.
There is a Facebook Ad Library that allows you to view current and past ads, even ones you were not otherwise shown because you were not the target audience. It’s interesting to see what each campaign is running! Also if you do searches about a candidate (for example “Donald Trump”) vs. those that are paid for by the Candidate’s own committee (for example ” Trump Make America Great Again Committee”), you can get very different results. Try it!
The photo in the troll ad reminds me of the Webster University Journal article we discussed toward the beginning of the class about Senator Josh Hawley and the Confucius Institute. A lot of photos could have been chosen to use in that article. It’s interesting that most of the other articles I found have photos of activities at Confucius Institutes, Chinese people or Chinese culture, or some kind of protest. But the Journal article has a photo that could be considered kind of loaded, especially when you consider it in conjunction with the article’s contents. Why do you think a photo from Cape Girardeau was chosen instead of one from the St. Louis area when Webster University and the Confucius Institute it hosts are in St. Louis County? Sometimes certain photos are chosen because they are available. Sometimes certain photos are chosen because they convey a latent message. Do you think there are latent messages in these two photos?
Why was there no mention made that there was a Senate hearing on the issue with a member of the FBI giving testimony about why the agency was concerned?
Why was no mention made of other politicians from both major parties writing similar letters to colleges in their states? Some of the other Universities’ actions were mentioned, but not what prompted them. Why is that?
“Over the last several years, members of Congress, U.S. government officials, and academics have raised a number of concerns about Confucius Institutes, including about academic freedom, contractual agreements, transparency, hiring practices, and self-censorship. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Foreign Relations Committees all held broad hearings that discussed China at which Senators heard from experts on U.S.-China relations, academic freedom advocates, and law enforcement officials. Additionally, members of Congress from several states issued public letters to U.S. schools with Confucius Institutes urging them to reconsider their arrangement with Hanban.”
I am very much in favor of cultural exchange and the learning languages of other cultures. I think the more we and other nations understand each other the better off we will all be. I don’t know whether the Webster University Chancellor made the right decision or not because I don’t know enough about the legal and financial arrangements to judge. I could not detect anything false in the Webster Journal article, but on the other hand I don’t think there was enough information in it to understand the actual issue. I am pretty sure I know what the Journal wanted me to think about it though. I think my analysis is an example of how we have to read all news stories to be informed and not just manipulated.
WARNING: Contains spoilers for Season 3 Episodes 2 and 3! Yes I know the show is about historic events but some of them are obscure enough that some audience members might not be aware of them before watching… Also there are some liberties taken with history here and there to make a better story. Private conversations are dramatized on screen for which there are no records. This goes for every historical drama that I have ever taken the time to analyze, so I think it’s important to use them as entertainment and to generate interest in a historical topic that you want to learn more about, but be cautious about using them as sources of facts. Actual documentaries can be manipulated quite a bit as well. Both forms can be marvelous entertainment however. As a visual artist, I think practically every shot in The Crown is a work of art and the period costumes and sets alone are worth the time to watch. For example it’s kind of disappointing to find out that in real life Princess Margaret wore a pink dress with a modest neckline to the White House and not a low-cut bright red and white floral, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Enjoy!
Following is a paper I turned in yesterday for Media and Culture class, before grading.
Production Elements and Messages in The Television Series The Crown
The Netflix historical drama series The Crown tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign against a backdrop of historical events and personal relationships (The Crown). Reviewers consistently praise the high quality of the production (The Crown). I watched two back-to-back episodes of the current third season which featured stories of increasing seriousness and emotional impact to explore how production elements help to tell each story.
In S3 Ep2 “Margaretology”, editing greatly helps the narrative by beginning the episode with a flashback of the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret as young girls. They discuss how younger sister Margaret, though by law she cannot be Queen because she is not the first born, actually wants to do the job, has more confidence in her natural ability, and might actually be better at being Queen. They decide to find out if they can switch places. Next is a scene from the show’s present day in which Margaret and her husband discuss her life as it is contrasted with how it should have been. Then the opening credits begin. Later in the episode, Elizabeth decides that she needs Margaret’s help with diplomacy with the United States and Margaret has success in charming President Johnson at a White House dinner. Margaret asks Elizabeth to give her more duties. Although the Queen is tempted, she is persuaded by her husband Philip that it’s safer for the monarchy and the country to keep things the way they are. The episode ends with flashbacks to the child Margaret intercut with the present day Margaret at similar dressing tables, looking devastated, showing that her feelings of not being able to achieve what she viewed as her potential are old hurts that won’t go away (Margaretology).
“Aberfan”, S3 Ep3, is a much more serious episode. Instead of dealing with the disappointment of one character whose personality is sometimes abrasive and not always easy to empathize with (Margaretology), “Aberfan” tells the story of a horrific 1966 mining disaster that killed 144 people, including 116 children (Blakemore). Before the opening credits, there are scenes of the Welsh town Aberfan in the rain (Aberfan). The camera slowly rises over the rooftops to show a view of dark hills surmounted by a mining operation that dwarfs the community. Next there are more scenes of the village, showing children at the end of a school day, being dismissed, walking home and going about their normal evening activities with their families. Considerable screen time is spent on the children and this sustained coverage lets us know their importance (Silverblatt et al. 169). We are also shown a canary in a cage in one of the mining families’ homes. The canary could symbolize many things. The little bird’s sweet chirping recalls the chatter and singing of the innocent children. It has little control over its own fate because it is in a cage, possibly bringing to one’s mind a symbolic cage of being born into a way of life built on dangerous labor with limited opportunity to escape. Canaries also remind us that mining is a hazardous profession due to their traditional use in detecting deadly underground gases (Eschner).
It’s not only raining in Wales, it’s also raining at Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II is looking over her planner and writing the heading “Friday” as she plans her next day. This is not the only instance in which the disaster occurring on a Friday is emphasized (Aberfan). The Christian faith of the people of the village and of the Monarch is prominent throughout the episode, and Christian viewers watching would be aware that Friday is the most somber day in the Christian week because by scripture and tradition Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday (Aglialoro). Before the teacher dismisses the children, he asks what tomorrow is. The first answer is Friday. The answer the teacher is looking for is that it is also the day when they are going to have an assembly for which they need to practice a song (Aberfan).
On the Friday morning, the tension keeps building when scenes of the disaster beginning to manifest are cross-cut with classroom scenes (Aberfan). Cross-cutting is a technique that shows events happening in different locations are occurring at the same time (Silverblatt et al. 171).
More than once during the episode we are shown the Queen’s arrangement of family photos in her sitting room, and she and the Prime Minister are each seen gazing at family photos as they contemplate events. Perhaps we are meant to remind ourselves that families are a near-universal part of human existence no matter what our life circumstances are. Even if we feel safe and secure in an imposing palace or a modest but cozy cottage, our loved ones can be taken from us at any time in ways we never expected (Aberfan).
Color and Lighting
Margaret is consistently shown wearing livelier and more colorful fashions than her more conservative older sister in the “Margaretology” episode. As Margaret arrives at the White House, the facade of the building is well lit with warm light in contrast to gray Buckingham Palace, suggesting that the older, struggling country might find the hope and help it seeks from the prosperous younger nation. The light could also symbolize Margaret coming out into her natural if not traditional place in the spotlight at last (Margaretology). In a scene where Margaret asks the Queen for more public duties, the sisters are both wearing green as Elizabeth and Margaret get little digs in at each other about what they envy about each others’ lives (Margaretology), an example of exploiting associations that different colors have in our culture (Silverblatt et al. 171).
When Prime Minister Harold Wilson visits the Queen to tell her about her sister’s lively if not outrageous performance at the White House dinner, using humorously understated phrases such as “less than discreet” and “a little off-color”, they are in the Queen’s sitting room which as usual is softly lit with a color palette of muted grays and pastels. The Queen is expecting to hear bad news during this private conversation with her Prime Minister and the subdued atmosphere fits his hesitance and embarrassment as well as her reluctance to hear the inevitable. Gray tones can signify discomfort (Silverblatt et al. 172) and dim lighting can indicate something hidden (Silverblatt et al. 176). While Margaret is proud of her turn in the spotlight, the Queen and Prime Minister would prefer not to bring her behavior out into the open. The sitting room scenes are intercut with incidents from the previous evening’s dinner that had been relayed to the Prime Minister through the British Ambassador. The dinner party scenes are full of bright flowers in warm tones that complement Margaret’s coral-red and white-flowered dress as she wins over the first couple and their guests who follow the President’s lead in appreciating Margaret’s cruder type of charm. Margaret is even verbally compared to a color film as opposed to one in black and white as her husband reads to her a newspaper account of their earlier, socially successful visit to San Francisco (Margaretology).
In the episode “Aberfan”, at the beginning before the credits we see a wide view of the village with the coal tips and mining operations in the background. It’s early morning and the light from one of the cottages near the foot of the dark mass that threatens the town shines through the windows. The house looks like a nostalgic little model in a holiday display or toy train layout. Since this dwelling is close to the base of the coal tip, it’s possible that it represents one of the homes that got destroyed in the disaster. The light could symbolize the life that is about to be snuffed out like a little candle flame, consistent with several possible meanings of light including life and innocence (Silverblatt et al. 176). Later in the episode candles are prominent as lighting for emergency use, in the mortuary and in the chapel (Aberfan).
Lighting is used in dramatic ways throughout the whole episode. The dark hills and rainy, gray weather combine with the dimly lit interiors of the humble buildings in the village to create a suitably somber mood, appropriate for grief, mourning and death (Silverblatt et al. 176). Light is used constantly throughout the whole episode to enhance and what the viewer is seeing and feeling. Vehicle headlights, lamps, flashlights, spotlights, flashbulbs, the sun and beams of light all play a part in the composition of scenes. Prime Minister Wilson looks shocked at several points in the episode and flash bulbs going off in his face emphasize his distress even more (Aberfan).
At the end of the devastating funeral service for dozens of children, some beams of light barely get though the gray sky as the mourners sing a hymn. This light could represent several things. It could be the mourners comforted slightly by the thought of the children’s souls being lifted up to God. It could be comfort from God or the funeral assemblage or both, however feeble, giving a tiny bit of hope to the community that they can live through this catastrophe. During the funeral scene, we are shown close-ups of Philips face. Perhaps the light is Philip’s thoughts as he becomes enlightened on how best to advise the Queen on how to help the community heal.
Shapes and Connotative Images
There are occasions in the “Aberfan” episode where Elizabeth is contemplating what actions she should take while she is shown backlit in profile. This technique is perhaps intended to bring to mind the iconic image of the monarch on coins and stamps as she decides how to live up to the duty that her idealized image represents. Shape and light are again used together in the Aberfan cemetery. The graves of the children are arranged in a cross shape. We also see a cross in focus behind the Queen’s head when she prays alone in a chapel (Aberfan). Both the profile and the cross could also be considered connotative images that bring up associations in the intended audience (Silverblatt et al. 189).
Scale and Relative Position
Scale is used effectively in “Margaretology” when Margaret sees by her sister’s attitude that the answer to her request to have more of a public role is no. There is a picnic taking place on a hill in front of a castle. Margaret’s position as well as the camera’s is downhill from the picnic, suggesting she is dominated by the institutions that control all their lives and is forever subordinate to her sister. In a flashback when the young Margaret is being scolded for daring to ask courtier Alan Lascelles (Alan Lascelles) if she and her sister could change places, Lascelles is shot from approximately her eye level so he looks exceedingly stern and intimidating while the young Margaret is comparatively powerless (Margaretology).
In “Aberfan”, the ominous mountain of coal is repeatedly shown looming over the village and the people, emphasizing their vulnerability (Aberfan).
Angles and Movement
In the beginning stages of the Aberfan disaster, the tension is enhanced by diagonal shots of ore cart tracks, lift cables and structures. The mountainside itself forms a diagonal angle as the coal slurry starts to slip down and toward the town (Aberfan). Diagonal lines and movement are associated with the triangle shape which is more active and unstable than squares and 90 degree angles (Silverblatt et al. 178-179).
In the pivotal, wordless slow-motion scene where Margaret experiences profound disappointment in “Margaretology”, even though there is a festive picnic in progress, all that can be heard in the soundtrack is wistful music and the faint sound of blowing leaves. Elizabeth and Philip walk past her, leaving her behind in actuality as well as symbolically (Margaretology). The combination of unnatural movement and unnatural sound help give focus to what the character is experiencing internally (Silverblatt et al. 184, 198).
“Aberfan” begins ominously with the sounds of rain, thunder and threatening mechanical noises. The noises continue subtly through a scene of children in a classroom. There are sequences of children practicing singing for a school assembly. The purity and sweetness of those sounds is in contrast to the menace that looms over them, accompanied by poignant background music. It’s significant that the children are practicing a song containing the lyrics “All things bright and beautiful”, reminding us that they are pre-eminent among the bright and beautiful things that are about to be lost (Aberfan).
In the palace, the Queen is shown writing in her planner while thunder is in the background, suggesting that she will somehow be affected by what is about to happen even in her solid, imposing residence (Aberfan).
When the Prime Minister speaks to the bereaved community, the sounds of cameras are conspicuously loud. We also hear prominent shutter clicks when the Queen dabs her eye with a tissue, reminding us that we are witnessing an important moment. The Queen was moved by Philip’s account of the mourner’s singing instead of using their anger and grief as fuel for a disturbance. She listens to a recording of the hymn at the end of the episode and finally is able to shed a tear (Aberfan).
Manifest and Latent Messages
In these two episodes of The Crown, most of the concepts are examples of manifest messages, clear and obvious to the viewer (Silverblatt et al. 11). I did find a couple of possible latent messages, that is meanings that are hinted at or unintentional (Silverblatt et al. 11). In “Margaretology”, it’s not stated out loud by anyone that Princess Margaret might have hit it off with President Johnson mainly because their personalities were similar and it’s likely she would not be able to repeat her diplomatic success in other situations with more genteel people (Updergrove). If one was not already familiar with Johnson’s reputation, some hints were given earlier by showing Johnson doing things like having a meeting while urinating and making crude remarks. The viewer can connect the dots and add to the clearly stated reasons why the Queen and her consort are hesitant to take more chances (Margaretology).
As the Queen exits an Aberfan home where she has expressed personal condolences to selected representatives of the community, she is photographed dabbing at her eye with a tissue. Near the end of the episode the Queen confesses to Prime Minister Wilson that she was not really crying and feels “deficient” because she is not able to cry at sad events like others do. The manifest message is that the Queen feels shame that her photographed suggestion of crying was not real and that the mourners deserved better. In preceding parts of the episode, there are many discussions among various players about how to manage public outrage over the disaster for the benefit of one political party or another, the Coal Board, the Monarchy, or the establishment in general. Since both the Prime Minister and the Queen are portrayed as at least somewhat principled and not solely acting in self-interest, a possible latent message is that the Queen felt obligated to fake the scene in order to create photographs that would both comfort the bereaved and help protect institutions that she is charged with preserving (Aberfan).
The creators of The Crown take already compelling subject matter and increase the emotional impact of this drama series considerably by indulging in careful and thoughtful detail in the production.
“Aberfan.” The Crown, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Benjamin Caron, Netflix, 2019.
For our first test in Mass Communications class, we were asked to pick two questions from four offered and write at least a page on each. I’m going to take a risk and put these out there before they are graded because it might be a week before I get the graded test back and I don’t want to sit on this for that long. I’m spoiled and too used to the instant gratification that comes with self-publishing I suppose! If I decide to make any changes after grading I’ll indicate what I changed so you can see the corrections.
3. Explain Propaganda Theories. Contrast Lasswell’s Propaganda Theory and the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ perspective. How do you see propaganda currently?
Mass society theorists have been fearful about the influence of mass media on average people since mass media first became prevalent (Baran and Davis 56). World Wars I and II along with the rise of totalitarian governments around the world caused researchers and critics to study how oppressive regimes used propaganda and to explore whether propaganda could be used to preserve and promote democracy instead (Baran and Davis 56). Behaviorism was an early theory that proposed that most human behavior could be explained by external conditioning rather than conscious choice (Baran and Davis 46-47). Freudianism was another theory that was also skeptical about the abilities of humans to use reason to control their actions. To Freudian thinkers, the rational mind was called the Ego. They believed media could be used to cause either the Id or the Superego to become dominant and undermine the Ego, resulting in people losing reasoning ability or giving up control to others (Baran and Davis 47-48).
Harold Lasswell was a political scientist who believed that the mental state of the subjects of propaganda was more important than the actual media content. In his view economic problems, war and conflict induced a form of psychosis that made people more susceptible to being manipulated (Baran and Davis 48). Democracies are designed so that it’s necessary to debate ideas in order for voters to decide which is the most rational. In his time as well as today, political discussions could become verbally rancorous and sometimes even escalate to physical violence. Lasswell believed it was too risky for people to engage in or witness such contention because it would induce psychosis that could lead to the adoption of subversive ideas (Baran and Davis 48). It would in his view be safer to expose people to benign propaganda crafted by a scientific technocracy rather than allow open debate (Baran and Davis 48-49). He advocated for long-term campaigns, possibly lasting months or years, that utilized every possible form of media to associate meanings with symbols that could be used to plant ideas into consumers that were more compatible with democracy (Baran and Davis 49).
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was an interdisciplinary association that existed from 1937-1942. It’s purpose was to explore how the public could be educated to consume communication more rationally and become resistant to propaganda (Sproule 486). Today we would call this type of education media literacy (Baran and Davis 293). The IPA identified the “seven common propaganda devices”, which they termed “name calling, glittering generalities, transfer, testimonial, plain folks, card stacking and band wagon” (Sproule 488-489).
In the postwar period, other theories and research methods were developed that made the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ research and list seem out of date among many researchers (Sproule 495-496). Nevertheless the ideas and terms that the the IPA introduced are still in use. A 1995 publication by the Institute of General Semantics advocates the use of the IPA’s concepts because they are non-technical and understandable by a wide variety of people (The Iconography of… 14). They created a set of symbols to illustrate and provided rhetorical examples with the symbols inserted to indicate which propaganda devices were used. A 2017 article in Psychology Today makes the case for continuing to use the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ list along with an introduction that explains some of the history of propaganda and the IPA (Shpancer). A web site called Propaganda Critic was created during the early years of the World Wide Web. The project team for Propaganda Critic views itself as a successor to the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (Delwiche and Herring). They retain many of the IPA’s terms and ideas on their Propaganda page while renaming and adding a few of their own (Delwiche).
It’s not new for the elite classes to be concerned every time a new communication technology is introduced (Baran and Davis 33). An example of a media literacy effort developed to combat the new challenges that come with new technology is DROG. DROG is a European interdisciplinary organization that produced an online game called Bad News in collaboration with Cambridge University. Players are cast in the role of an online propagandist and earn badges for Impersonation, Emotion, Polarization, Conspiracy, Discredit and Trolling. The goal of the game is to make media consumers more aware of the new propaganda techniques made possible by modern technology. Although the goals of DROG are very similar to organizations like the older IPA, they have created a new list with new terms that does more than just put a new label on old ideas (DROG).
4. As an example of Normative Theories, what are the major aspects of Social Responsibility Theory? What are the pros and cons? How do you see Social Responsibility in the future?
A normative theory explains “how a media system should be structured and operate in order to conform to or realize a set of ideal values” (Baran and Davis 16). Social responsibility theory has been the dominant normative theory in the United States from the reform era of the early 20th century up to the present time (Baran and Davis 60-61). Since our Bill of Rights contains Freedom of the Press, the government is limited in what it can do to regulate communication (Baran and Davis 64-65). The Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press, consisting of leaders in different fields, was convened and financed from 1942-1947 by the CEO of Time, Inc. to explore how the press could better serve the public and avoid excessive government regulation (Baran and Davis 72). The commissions findings were summarized in Social Responsibility Theory of the Press in 1956 (Baran and Davis 73).
According to the ideas in the report, journalists were encouraged to be professional by being competent, accurate and balanced in their coverage. Beyond just their own financial interests and that of their employers, they had a duty to also serve society. Serving society was thought to consist of abiding by the law and not inciting crime, violence or disorder. All members of society including minority groups would ideally be respected and have their interests and views represented (Baran and Davis 74).
Doubts abound about whether social responsibility theory is actually followed by media professionals. Even if attempts are made to follow the guidelines, the results are not always what were intended (Baran and Davis 74-75). There are many barriers to living up to the ideas in social responsibility theory. Often members of the media are reluctant to engage in policing each other because they fear undermining faith in the whole organization or profession (Baran and Davis 75). Standards are vague enough that members of the media can go pretty far in protecting their own interests (Baran and Davis 76). There are no professional licenses that allow journalists to practice and it’s difficult to define who is a journalist and who is not (Baran and Davis 76-77). The output that journalists produce is often the product of many hands and it’s difficult to know who is responsible and what the actual damages are from misdeeds (Baran and Davis 77).
Technology has democratized the ability to be a publisher and consumers can choose from a wider variety of information sources (Baran and Davis 82-83). The American public’s trust in the media had dropped to a historic low point by September 2016 according to a Gallup Poll (Americans’ Trust in…). If the media wants to regain more of the public’s trust it might benefit from some self-examination and self-regulation in the tradition of the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the press.
Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.
Sproule, J. Michael. “The Institute for Propaganda Analysis: Public Education in Argumentation, 1937-1942.” Conference Proceedings — National Communication Association/American Forensic Association (Alta Conference on Argumentation), Jan. 1983, pp. 486–499. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=20908496&site=ehost-live. Accessed 23 September 2019.
“The Iconography of Propaganda Analysis.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 52, no. 1, Spring 1995, p. 13. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=9503150320&site=ehost-live. Accessed 23 September 2019.
Interesting links I found but didn’t use:
No, I haven’t read all these (yet). But I want to save them where I can find them again and if you are interested in the topics I wrote about above you will probably find some good reading in there!