On either side of the political spectrum, there have been cries of foul play concerning the media for years now.
Terms like ‘biased reporting’ and ‘fake news’ are frequently inundating the screens of teleprompters as political candidates recite their promises on televised broadcasts.
But really, how much can the media do with the information they obtain? Surely there is only so much twisting of the facts that can be done before the lies are inescapably apparent.
With the number of social media users climbing each year, the electorate has almost instant access to information as soon as it becomes available. Whether it be the live streaming of political rallies, or the controversial tweets of governmental figureheads: as voters we have more information than ever to go on when deciding where to place our vote.
Within the political communications arena, the agenda-setting theory plays a prominent role in describing the way that news organisations depict the news they report. The theory emphasises the point that media outlets will often accentuate certain details of a story, whilst foregoing others, in an attempt to promote a certain kind of thinking.
Political scientist Bernard Cohen once said that, “the press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.” So, is this manipulation over the content of voter thinking enough to determine what matters when they enter the polls?
The Brexit referendum is a prime example of such blatant manipulation of the public view, with many arguing that the press’ accentuation of the Leave campaign’s arguments on immigration and NHS funding seemed to be overplayed to a theatrical extent. Supporters of a second referendum contend that the depictions of each side by the media only further worsened any effects of scaremongering. By focusing on the impact of dramatic headlines, some argue, the finer and more important details were missed, therefore depriving the public of a real sense of what to expect from Brexit.
BBC recently came under fire, after the SNP logo was not featured among other Westminster parties during a political discussion. This was despite a UKIP logo appearing on the screen – a party that is without a single MP, whilst the SNP makes up the third-largest party in Westminster.
It even comes down to the memes you share without thinking. We have politicised every post. Every fashion blunder is used to supposedly discredit the political aptitudes of MPs, whilst Trump captures the attentions of millions with each insane tweet.
It becomes unfashionable to support certain members of parliament, their character being ripped apart by a barrage of keyboard warriors who, despite having a large reach, don’t understand the intricacies of policy-making. Quicker than ever, political figures are torn down from their pedestals, rumours spreading like wildfire.
The initial headline is the one we remember, the apologies for inaccurate reporting rarely make the rounds the same way. In the meantime, we are left believing a lie.
What does this mean for voters? It simply means we have to be more aware. By being more vigilant in checking the reliability of your sources, looking beyond your initial port of call for news and taking everything with a grain of salt, you can limit the chances of falling victim to media manipulation.