How Bias Presents Itself Throughout the Media: Consequences of Bias in the media
The way a message is communicated can impact an individual’s opinion in various aspects. Similarly, an individual’s opinion can impact the way a message is communicated. Media bias is evidence of this phenomenon in everyday life. This bias is something that has become more and more prevalent in today’s society. Bias in the media affects trust and perception, time spent on the mass media, and decision making.
The media has long had the confidence and trust of the public. However, in recent years it seems that the mass media has become more and more biased in their reporting of news and events. Something even as simple as coverage time for specific points of view can and does leave an impression on the audiences of said content. When the population perceives that there is bias, the trust level towards the media outlets goes down. Even in just perception, the level of trust is seen to decrease. When the levels of trust decrease, time spent on the mass media and decision-making is dramatically influenced.
The dramatic increase of media bias in every sector of media outlet has created a rift between the consumers and providers of media. Because of the bias that is published, consumers are more willing to distrust media outlets. This is due to the fact that since the later end of the 1980’s and forward there has been a great increase in media bias. The more time that consumers spend consuming the more they grow to resent the media publishers.
Bias in the media can influence one’s ability to make objective decisions due to the way words or phrases are used to portray certain events, the way politicians use their social media to accomplish their own personal agenda, and in addition, the way reporters struggle to compartmentalize their own opinions and the events they are reporting.
In this literature review we will discuss the ways bias demonstrates itself amongst the media in various forms. We will address how media bias impacts societies, thoughts, and the way they perceive issues. Through various studies, we will provide evidence as to how bias is present in the media today. We will also show how that bias in the media affects trust in media, time spent in media, and making decisions.
Effect of media bias on trust and perception of media
Throughout the years that the mass media has been around, the level of mistrust in the media has increased. In the beginning years, the public expected the media to give the most truthful account of what was happening in the world. The public trusted the media and this trust held the media accountable. This trust was displayed in the 1938 broadcast of the Orson Welles classic novel War of the Worlds. The broadcast was meant to seem realistic and be a part of the novel, however, many people thought it was real and thought there was an alien attack taking place. Some people flew into a panic, because they believed that the media would not lie to them. However, it turned out to just be an advertisement for the book itself. During this time of trust in the media, this was unprecedented. However, since this time, the trust that the public has had in the media has significantly dropped off.
The vast majority of literature we studied agrees that the level of mistrust in the media has increased over the last decade or so. Many studies from different journals of journalism and communications have shown that the public tends to mistrust the media much more in the recent past. Studies from This has been the result of perceived growth of bias in the media. The presence and scope of bias is a topic upon which there is some debate among scholars. According to some the “bias in the electoral context is not shown to be pervasive” (Ardevol-Abreu 2017). Some believe that the bias in the media can be seen as a result of the public’s demand for information and news that supports their view. So when there is perceived bias in the media there is a belief that it is due to the demand from the public to give them content that matches their views. If this is the case, then the bias from the media is not the fault of the media, but from the public themselves. This happens because, as Elejalde argues, “media outlets tend to maximize profit by catering to a specific audience, even when journalists are meant to be unbiased givers of information” (Elejalde 2018, para. 2).
The majority of literature do believe that bias is prevalent and affects the trust that the public in general has in the outlets. However, the “perceptions of media bias are, in fact, more related to personal attitudes and characteristics, than to actual media content” (Adams 2018 p. 8). Bias can be hidden in some situations, so the average reader may not always find that bias. However, according to a recent Gallup Poll, less than half of Americans (40 percent) say that they trust mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. On top of that, about 70% of the population think that the news media intentionally bias coverage (Elejalde 2018 p. 6). These numbers are great indicators that the public finds the media to be intentionally biased and that fact truly hurts the credibility of the mass media.
The public expects the media to hold public officials accountable to the public. These high expectations are not met when the media is seen as biased (Diehl 2019 para 16). Even if the media isn’t completely biased, the perception that it is, affects how the public consumes and feels about the media. It is nearly impossible to experience many of the events and newsworthy things that the media covers, and so the public expects the media to only give the information necessary to understand the subject. Therefore, the trust in the media is essential. When the public is no longer able to trust that the media is unbiased and able to just give information, the audience is not able to have confidence in what those specific outlets say. This affects the whole country in that a rift is created between two sides of a given argument. This leads to echo chambers and the desire to only hear things that are in line with the opinions they already have. Many scholars feel that the divisiveness is, in part, created by a biased media.
According to an article written in 2018, the media has grown in scope and in power (Elejalde 2018 para. 28). With that, the political interests of the population has grown. Because of the rise in mistrust, many have turned to citizen journalism, or the general public reporting the news and events. This has led to the rise of “fake news” or news meant just to stir up chaos. This has been a problem on social media, especially on Facebook. Since over one-third of Americans get some news and public affairs information through Facebook or Twitter, this can be concerning (Gil de Zuñiga 2018 para. 2). Some scholars believe that the bias in the mass media has pushed many people to rely on smaller news sources and citizen journalists. This can make for a less educated and informed public, which can lead to many problems in the political landscape of the country. Therefore, the rise in media bias and consequent mistrust in the media lead to divisiveness and misinformation.
Effect of media bias on time spent with the media
The effect that the media has on people is astounding. It is something that impacts their decisions from early in the morning when they wake up, to the moment right before they go to bed. It is the impulse that pushes people to make a purchase of a home in California instead of the great plains of Texas. Now saying that, it is even more impressive to see what kind of effect news media has on people. On the fateful day of September 11, 2001, a shock wave was sent across the world letting everyone know that the twin towers in New York had been attacked and destroyed. It is also by the same means that the entire world came to know that the United States of America would be going to war with the Middle East and consequently terrorism. This fight was not just in the United States, but across the world. Media is good when these kinds of things are going on; it is good for notifying and letting people know what is going on in the world, but there are times when media has biases so deep that people can’t help but have a distrust in media.
Today the views on media are changed from what they were in the early 2000’s. Back then people could look to media and get some sort of reliable information that they could use. But there is so much bias in media today that the more people get exposed to it, the more it rubs them the wrong way. The following quote can help explain at what point the people of the United States are at with media. “The [public mood towards the news media has reached an all-time nadir in the United States” (Gil de Zuñiga 2018 para. 2). A nadir is the lowest point in the fortunes of a person or organization. This quote shows that because of the time people have spent consuming the media with all of its biases, it has in a way created a rift between the news media and the people. It has created a sense of mistrust. The following quote explains that as well. “According to a recent Gallup Poll, less than half of Americans (40 percent) say that they trust mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly” (Gilde Zuñiga 2018 para. 4). This quote explains the growing mistrust the American people are having with media because of the time they have spent with the biases that the media is pushing on them daily.
With all of these problems going on with the media and the negative perception of the media, it’s no wonder that even the President of the United States has brought the media under question. He has stated on multiple occasions that most news outlets are producing “Fake News”. Because of those claims, the media has taken a stance against the President and have been trying their best to produce anything they can to take away as much of his credibility as possible. The following quote can help with understanding what consumers might be thinking after the media does such things: “many news consumers believe that newspapers and broadcast news push a political slant rather than covering all sides of an issue or event” (Kaye 2016 p. 8). This shows that because of the exposure that the public has had to biases in the media, they are more inclined to believe that even when it comes to politics the media is pushing some bias either against or towards a specific political group or political person.
But even though we live in a time where we are saturated with media biases from all sides, there are times where people have changed their points of view because of the interactions that they have with the actual journalists that provide the stories. The following quote can attest to the previous statement “a closer relationship with journalists on Twitter is associated with lower levels of perceived media bias” (Gil de Zuñiga 2018 para. 38). This quote shows that as the public comes into closer contact with the actual journalists, the perception of media bias goes down. This is something that can only happen through mediums like Twitter as mentioned in the previous quote.
For the most part, the mass media has been seen as a reliable source of information for the public. It wasn’t until the later end of the 20th century that the belief that the media was biased was held by half of the population of the country: “53% of Americans in 1985 believe that media favored particular issues and did not report all perspectives equally” (Eberl 2019 para. 18). Even then, it wasn’t until the 21st century that more than half of the population in the United States perceived media bias. “By 2010 that perception was held by 77% of news audience” (Eberl 2019 para. 29).
Effect of media bias in decision making
As a whole, society consumes a large amount of media each day. Whether it is consumed through television, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or a different source, there is a large amount of exposure to the media. In consuming this media, it is very hard to avoid media bias. Individuals reporting news events, involved in political campaigns, or simply speaking of world events all have their own opinions or agendas and very few are able to compartmentalize their thoughts. It is hard to discuss or report events that one is tied to. Thus, we see bias present itself in different forms of media.
The way that media is presented and the bias that is involved influences the way people make decisions. This is demonstrated in the way people get tied to the politicians they follow. One study researched the way individuals felt about the politicians they follow on social media and the feeling of loyalty they have to those politicians. The study found that “people who actively choose to follow politicians on social media have stronger politically relevant emotional responses that subsequently promote perceptions of media hostility” (Weeks 2019 para. 38). More simply stated, the study found that people who follow politicians on social media have stronger emotions associated with politics and promote media hostility.
Obviously, politicians use their social media to promote their own agenda. Politicians “are increasingly using social media as a primary way to reach voters” (Kreiss et al., 2018), taking advantage of the ability to bypass the media and speak directly with their followers, thereby creating a prominent platform to criticize the media and their opponents and to promote themselves” (Weekes 2019 para. 39). Many of the things politicians share aren’t necessarily accurate, but they use their platform to encourage their following to engage with them in whatever they are trying to promote. Thus, through this study, it is evident that bias in the media influences the way voters make decisions and perceive certain issues.
Another study evaluated how the way words and phrases were used, influenced the perception of individuals and how they evaluate the media. “Media schemata are internal images, and include a range of beliefs and orientations toward the news media that operate as guides, or expectations that influence how individuals process messages” (Gil de Zúñiga 2018). The study found that certain words and phrases used in the media shifted people’s political orientation and their perspective on events that were taking place around them. This may seem unreasonable, however, when evaluating it on a personal basis, we find that it is quite accurate. For example, if a headline reads “Market stays stagnant – US citizens are remaining consistent” in comparison to “Market stays stagnant – US citizens are showing no progress”, there will be different attitudes about the market depending on which title you read. Therefore, words and phrases in the media can demonstrate bias from the reporter and develop bias amongst the audience.
Further, this study found that media bias played a role in how controversial topics were covered in the news and media. If certain events were covered in the media more so than others, it communicated to the audience that it was a larger issue. Additionally, if certain phrases or words were used to explain a controversial event, it could impact the way the audience interpreted the event and their opinion on what action should take place following the event. Thus, we see the way media bias can impact decision-making among its audience.
Through both studies we see that words, phrases, and the way a message is communicated affects the way the audience perceives the events occuring. Thus, it is evident that media bias plays a role in decision-making. As the audience experiences consequences of media bias, they make decisions based on the information they are acquiring. And if this information is biased, then the decisions that are being made will be biased as well.
The bias in the media can be seen as a result of the public’s demand for information and news that supports their view. The media believe that the best way to profit and increase viewership is to just cater to those biases. If the public were more open-minded to hear news from all points of view, the media would be forced to be unbiased. Some of the literature did a thorough job of seeing this viewpoint, while others seemed to only focus on the bias as the fault of the mass media alone. Even when the media is biased, those who agree with the point of view, do trust that outlet and see it as a viable source of information. So the idea that the media is biased is only true to those who look for differing points of view.
The perception the public has of media and its biases greatly affects how much time is spent in viewing the mass media. When the population views the media as being biased, they are less likely to view that specific outlet or trust that what they report as reliable information. The lack of trust will most definitely lead to less time spent with that specific media outlet. And when the public spends less time with certain media outlets, they are more prone to listening solely to outlets that spin the news in the way they believe.
Some may argue that people who spend a lot of time consuming media are more likely to make decisions about events in general and it has little to do with how the media is portrayed. However, research discussed earlier provides evidence that people can be persuaded one way or another based on words and phrases and how the message is communicated. Therefore, regardless of an individual’s level of consumption regarding media, they are still going to be persuaded by whatever media is consumed based on how it is portrayed.
After looking at multiple studies, we can conclude that there is a correlation between media bias, or how a message is communicated, and what decision an individual makes. As individuals attempt to portray themselves or a message in the media a certain way, it influences the way their audience perceives the message. Thus, influencing the way they make decisions. Individuals also lose trust in certain media outlets due to bias against their beliefs, which increases the influence on decision-making. These biases create deeper convictions and deeper rifts between different points of view.
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