Media asymmetry

Columbia Journalism Review published a great study a few weeks ago on the asymmetric media use between liberals and conservatives.  Headline might as well have been,”it’s worse than you think.”  Conservatives can yell till they are blue in the face that NYT, ABC, CBS, etc., are “liberal” and that Fox News is just the conservative balance, but that doesn’t make it so.  Sure these mainstream sources project “cosmopolitan” values, but they strive (too hard, one might argue) for balance and truth in coverage.  Safe to say Fox, and especially Breitbart, do not.  They unabashedly serve a political agenda.

Anyway, CJR:

We began to study this ecosystem by looking at the landscape of what sites people share. If a person shares a link from Breitbart, is he or she more likely also to share a link from Fox News or from The New York Times? We analyzed hyperlinking patterns, social media sharing patterns on Facebook and Twitter, and topic and language patterns in the content of the 1.25 million stories, published by 25,000 sources over the course of the election, using Media Cloud, an open-source platform for studying media ecosystems developed by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and MIT’s Center for Civic Media.

When we map media sources this way, we see that Breitbart became the center of a distinct right-wing media ecosystem, surrounded by Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed.

And a nice explanation of the asymmetry:

Our analysis challenges a simple narrative that the internet as a technology is what fragments public discourse and polarizes opinions, by allowing us to inhabit filter bubbles or just read “the daily me.” If technology were the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, we would expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and the right. Instead, different internal political dynamics in the right and the left led to different patterns in the reception and use of the technology by each wing. While Facebook and Twitter certainly enabled right-wing media to circumvent the gatekeeping power of traditional media, the pattern was not symmetric.

The size of the nodes marking traditional professional media like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, surrounded by the Hill, ABC, and NBC, tell us that these media drew particularly large audiences. Their color tells us that Clinton followers attended to them more than Trump followers, and their proximity on the map to more quintessentially partisan sites—like Huffington Post, MSNBC, or the Daily Beast—suggests that attention to these more partisan outlets on the left was more tightly interwoven with attention to traditional media. The Breitbart-centered wing, by contrast, is farther from the mainstream set and lacks bridging nodes that draw attention and connect it to that mainstream. [emphasis mine]

What we find in our data is a network of mutually-reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. “Fake news,” which implies made of whole cloth by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck of Facebook advertising dollars, rather than propaganda and disinformation, is not an adequate term. By repetition, variation, and circulation through many associated sites, the network of sites make their claims familiar to readers, and this fluency with the core narrative gives credence to the incredible.

Anyway, lots more good stuff to read in the full report, and well worth your time.  Short version: I suppose it’s nice for liberals to be able to say: look conservatives really are nuts and get way too much information from a media ecosystem that has only a passing relationship with the truth.  Alas, the threat this clearly creates (and has created) for a properly functioning democracy is serious indeed.

Advertisements

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: