Mass media can be defined as technology that is intended to reach a mass audience. It is the primarily means of communication used to reach the huge majority of the general public. The most common platforms for mass media are newspapers, television, radio, magazines and the internet. Mass media has become more powerful over the years because of its usefulness as a medium for advertising and propaganda. The way in which mass media is being used to manipulate, persuade and influence people’s minds and way of thinking demonstrates the concepts of assumption of mass media, propaganda and propaganda theories.
Mass society theory emerged at the end of the 19th century. It is a perspective on western industrial society that attributes an influential and largely negative role to media. It views the media as having the power to shape our perceptions of the social world and manipulate our actions without conscious awareness. This theory argues that media influence must be controlled (Baran and Davis, 2021, p. 33). Mass society theory critic Edward Shills (1962) (2021, p. 37) wrote, “Power is concentrated in society, and much of the power takes the form of manipulation of mass through the media of mass communication”. The mass society theories that were developed in the last century make several assumptions about individuals, and the role of the media.
The second assumption also known as the direct effects assumptions or hypodermic needle assumed that media has the power to reach out and directly influence the minds of average people so that their thinking is transformed (Davis, 1976) (2021, p. 38). Media can act independently of all the other things influencing people in their daily lives (Baran and Davis, 2021, p. 38). This assumption is still relevant in today’s world because individuals are submerged in their screens, receiving all kinds of information and the fact that most people get their information from the masses shows how everyone trusts that the information they are receiving is reliable if not they wouldn’t rely on the masses for information. So this makes it easier for the masses to manipulate and take advantage of people. According to sociologist James Carey (1996) (2021, p. 38), “The media collectively, but particularly the newer, illiterate media of radio and film, possessed extraordinary power to shape the beliefs and conduct of ordinary men and women” this is because of the fact that media has such a powerful impact that most people shape their beliefs or morals, values from television or social media.
The third assumption is that once the media transform people’s thinking, all sorts of bad long-term consequences may happen, creating social problems (Marcuse, 1941) (2021, p. 38). This assumption also applies in today’s world because people’s involvement with the constant use of social media platforms, not only makes them more vulnerable to believe everything they see and read and more easily manipulated, but also shapes their behaviour, leading to possible negative consequences for example, teenage delinquents have seen to many gangster movies and played to many violent video games that may shape their behaviour. Teenage girls hate their bodies because of the beauty standards made by magazines, movies and social media applications that shape their perception of a “perfect body or a perfect life”.
Mass society theory fourth assumption is that average people are vulnerable to the media because they have been cut off and isolated from traditional social institutions that previously protected them from manipulation. When people are stripped from their “comfort zone” provided by a traditional community, they often turn to the media for guidance and replace messages from social institutions that have been left behind. It can be very easy for the media to become the trusted source for individuals. People turn to the media for information about politics, entertainment, education, religion and more. People tend to learn new information and develop new ideas on important subjects from the media, making the media really powerful to change your opinions and values on important matters (Baran and Davis, 2021, p. 39).
One of the most popular forms of persuasion used in the media is propaganda. The term propaganda refers to a certain type of strategy involving the use of communication to propagate specific beliefs and expectations. The ultimate goal of propaganda is to change the way people act and leave them believing that their actions are voluntary, that the adopted behaviors and opinions are their own. To accomplish this, propagandists change the way people conceive themselves and their social world (Baren and Davis, 2021, p. 46). Michael Sproule (1994) argues that effective propaganda is convert, it persuades people without seeming to do so, features the massive orchestration of communication and emphasizes tricky language designed to discourage reflective thought. The propagandist believes the end justifies the means, meaning that it is necessary that lies be used to convince people to abandon ideas and adopt those favored by propagandists. Propagandists also rely on disinformation, meaning they spread false information about opposition groups. US theorists studied propaganda and came up with different types of propaganda that influenced people’s minds (Snowball, 1999; Becker, 1949) (2021, p. 46).
One type of propaganda used to draw attention from the truth is called white propaganda, it involves intentional suppression of contradictory information and ideas plus it promotes highly consistent information that supports the objectives of the propagandist. It is used to draw attention away from important events happening (Baron and Davis, 2021, p. 46). This means that they show us what they want us to see, not what is relevant or important, they show us what is going to be useful for them. Gray propaganda involves transmission of information that might or might not be false, making us believe and make our opinions on matters that are necessarily not true. Black propaganda involves the deliberate and strategic transmission of lies (Baron and Davis, 2021, p 46 & 47). This means that they show us false information that passes as true information, they show it to us as if it was true and we make our own opinions and assumptions with information that is not true, they present lies as facts making us believe that everything we read is true when it’s not. All these types of propaganda are used to manipulate, change and influence our way of thinking, for propagandist mass media is a very practical means of mass manipulation, an effective mechanism for controlling large populations. If individuals came to share the same views as them they were said to be converted meaning that they abandoned old views and took those promoted by propaganda.
Most of the propaganda theories like the Harold Lasswell propaganda theory developed during the 1930s were strongly influenced by two theories: Behaviorism and Freudianism. Behaviorism, John B Watson argued that all human action is merely a conditioned response to external stimuli. Meaning that most humans were conditioned to act in certain ways by positive and negative stimuli, we act to get rewarded or to avoid punishment. Freudianism, Sigmund Freud argued that the rational mind is controlled but sometimes other parts become more dominant. Human action is often a product of another darker side of the self – it’s the egocentric part of ourselves that the rational mind must struggle to keep under control (Baron and Davis, 2021, p. 50 & 51). These theories were combined to create propaganda theories that viewed average people as incapable of rational self-control. Both of these theories saw people highly at risk of being manipulated by the media using propaganda.
Harold Lasswell propaganda theory mixed ideas from behaviorism and Freudianism into a particularly pessimistic vision of the media and their role in structuring modern social orders (2021, p. 51). He stated that propaganda typically influenced people in slow and subtle ways, creating new master symbols that could be used to induce new forms of thought and action. His theory assumed that the media could operate as external agents to manipulate essentially passive mass audiences. Lasswell’s claims contribute to the thinking that mass media can manipulate us. It can be really easy to manipulate an audience if they are at their low, when people are confronted by powerful threats, they turn to propaganda for reassurance so it can be very easy for the media to take advantage of us and manipulate our way of thinking.
In conclusion, the evidence and theories shown in this essay prove that mass media can easily manipulate, persuade and influence people’s way of thinking. By using propaganda that transmits lies, using information that is not always true and by drawing attention away from problematic events. Also by taking advantage of peoples state of minds and by showing us false realities that may cause bad long term consequences for people. We can see how nothing of these has changed today as mass media is more powerful than ever making it really easy to get into peoples minds and manipulate their way of thinking.
- Baran, S. J., & Davis, D. K. (2021). Mass communication theory: Foundations, ferment, and future. New York, NY, United States of America: Oxford University Press.