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Media Manipulation: The Role Of Technology Past, Present, And Future

In the past, spreading false information was limited by the speed of communication methods such as print and word of mouth. Over the years media manipulation has ballooned along with the explosion of mass media. Today, technology has made it even easier for fake news to spread rapidly and reach vast audiences. Further, social media platforms and messaging apps have fueled the proliferation of media manipulation. Moving forward, emerging technologies like “deepfakes” pose a significant threat by making it even easier to produce realistic but falsified content. In this article, I’ll provide a short historical timeline of how people and organizations have used technology to spread messages to manipulate the public.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”.

Mark Twain

In Days Of Old Before Mass Media.

News has its humble beginnings where town criers or runners would deliver the news. Also, the written word was limited to a few chroniclers. So, the only opportunities for media manipulation was more in the form of gossip about neighbors or local events.

1439 – Printing Press And First Safeguards Against Media Manipulation.

With the advent of the printing press, more authors, and now publishers, could now distribute their books widely. However, there were no standards of journalistic ethics to follow. By the 17th century standards did improve where authors started the practice of citing their sources in footnotes.

As time progressed, publishers developed a set of journalistic standards and ethics to follow. These standards were developed in order to provide confidence to their readership that their information came from reliable sources. Further, these same journalistic standards have stood the test of time and are still the best way to combat media manipulation today. For more on combating fake news, see my article, How To Combat Fake News: What Happens When Journalists, Media, Authorities Act Right.

“History is a set of lies agreed upon”

Napoleon Bonaparte

1890s – Yellow Journalism And The Rise Of Media Manipulation.

By the mid-1890s, yellow journalism reached its peak. Indeed, not all journalists and publishers followed a set of ethics. Instead, some newspapers followed the creed, “the end justifies the means”. For example during these times, newspaper publishers, such as Pulizer and Hearst, goaded the United States into the Spanish-American War. In fact, the term “fake news” was apparently first used in the 1890s. For more on the moral drawbacks of “the end justifies the means”, see my article,  What You Need To Know About The End Justifies The Means: The Moral And Philosophical Challenge.

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

A. J. Liebling

Twentieth Century Mass Media –  TV & Radio, and The Global Village.

The Media Manipulator - media manipulation
The Media Manipulator!

In the age of electronic mass media, people consumed the news much in the same way as before except publishers could now circulate their news much quicker and to a wider audience. Further, by our use of instant communications such as cable news, we became like a “global village” consuming the same mass media news. At the same time local news outlets began to lose their significance for some. Additionally, up to this time people read or viewed the news as a singular activity, not as a participant. In particular, we just consumed the news and did not particularly participate in the news cycle as we do today with the advent of social media. 

Furthermore during this time, mass media advertising became a norm. On the plus side, advertising enabled the public to consume free content such as television shows. On the other hand, mass advertising opened the door for media manipulation by unscrupulous politicians and corporations. For more on the power of advertising, see my article, Power of Advertising – 9 Ways They Entice You To Buy.

“He who controls the media controls the minds of the public.”

Noam Chomsky

The Age Of Social Media – Audience Participation And Echo Chambers.

With the advent of social media like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, things have changed. First, local news outlets are less relevant and provide less of a shared experience in the local community. Also, now anyone can be a reporter. We, the audience, are no longer just consumers.

Indeed, we, the masses, are no longer just consumers of the media. Specifically, we are now all active performers where everyone can see what we post, what we like, and what “news” we consume. Indeed as performers, we are more conscious, and sometimes selective, of what we consume and share with our audience. Moreover, new techniques have emerged to combat media manipulation. Now, social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook have developed policies concerning the sharing of misleading manipulated media to minimize “fake news”. In some ways, these policies are similar to journalistic standards created in the past.

Also, with the internet explosion of both information and social media, “echo chambers” have now proliferated. In particular, we more and more get filtered news versus news just from mass media. Worse, anyone of us can filter the news, or even worse, manipulate it. Now either conscientiously or unconscientiously we can manipulate the media and pass it on to anyone as the truth. For more discussion on echo chambers, political tribalism, and bias, see my articles, Political Tribalism in America: Is This Our New Religion? and Bias With Examples – Everything You Need To Know.

Emerging AI Technology, A Fantastical Media Manipulator.

Even today “fake news” and media manipulation continues to evolve and even metamorphose into new forms. This is because of new technologies such as generative AI to include ChatGPT and MidJourney. Now, besides instant social media, we have “Deepfakes” and “synthetic media”. For example, AI-enhanced media can take a person’s existing image or video and replace it with someone else’s likeness. Also, anyone of us can use this type of media manipulation for fun, but also anyone can use deepfakes with malicious intent. 

Furthermore, now there are cases of AI hallucinations. This is where a Large Language Model (LLM) AI generates unexpected, untrue results. For example, this could be false content, news, or information about people, events, or facts. Worse, if unchecked, this fantastical media manipulation could both choke our media channels and lead us to not trusting any information found online. On the other hand, AI hallucinations do not occur maliciously. For more discussion on the importance of trust, see my article,  Why Trust is Important: It’s A Strong Relationship’s Hidden Secret.

For more on the role technology has played in regard to media manipulation, see Wikipedia’s Fake News  and Media Manipulation. Also, for more media manipulation references, see Decrypt’s OpenAI Wants to Stop AI from Hallucinating and Lying, ExploringYourMind’s 10 Strategies Of Media Manipulation, and TheMayor’s From Roman Rumours To Social Media Manipulation: Fake News Has Always Been With Us.

“A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself.”

Joseph Pulitzer
Why Is Fake News Bad? The Ways Of Disinformation Media, Exaggerated Truth, And High Tech Hallucinations.

Fake news can be a very emotional subject, but why is fake news bad? Most people agree that fake news is bad, but many of us disagree on what exactly is fake news. In today’s world, technology plays a huge role in the creation of fake news. With the help of social media, cable news, and AI-generated deepfakes, it’s easier than ever to spread misinformation. Click here to explore the impact of technology on fake news and more.

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