Since I reflected on my personal media use two months ago, those of us in New Hampshire have been inundated with political messages. I am in the group of more than 40% of voters in our state who are undeclared—often referred to as independent—and not registered as either a Republican or Democrat (Brooks, 2016). We can evaluate each candidate at all ends of the spectrum—and as the first 2016 primary in the nation, there were 58 candidates for us to choose from (Associated Press, 2015). That’s a lot of homework.
I believe that present day New Hampshire lacks the socioeconomic and cultural diversity to ideally represent a cross section of America. But it is our responsibility as influencers, tasked with the honor of voting first, to take extra efforts to try to understand the complexities of the issues of our nation and how they impact all of our citizens. This duty is what affected my recent media use the most, but what remains unchanged is how I approach media with intention.
My TV viewing habits changed. I viewed 3 Republican and 3 Democratic debates to educate myself. It seemed as if candidates could pretty much say anything they wanted in the debates to sway voters without having to be factual. After each, I followed up with research—doing my own fact checking. I was disappointed when news organizations were slow to point out false statements. It was also frustrating that the complexities of issues were not being discussed. During a Republican debate, an answer to the problem of drug addiction was to build a wall to stop drugs coming over the border (Team Fix, 2016). Not discussed—or even acknowledged—were over-prescribed opiates, inadequate rehabilitation options, and many other related concerns that make the issue of drug addiction too complex for a simple answer. The media fails at presenting fair perspectives when it does not cover the intricacies of issues, regardless of the matter, and does not discuss problems and solutions in a greater context.
I read more news about these issues and researched online. I attempted to make sense of the rhetoric coming from the candidates, which was amplified by news outlets; social media campaigns; and expensive direct mail and advertising from influential Super PACs. Cross-referencing information with credible sources—a media literacy skill—is time consuming but necessary to determine if information is factual.
My use of social media changed during this time. Like many, I broke my rule of keeping politics out of my social network. I used the platform to try to counter false information and educate others through easy-to-understand factual data, which I found through my research. My intent was not to sway anyone towards a particular candidate or ideology, but rather offer credible information that others could use to craft their own opinions. This mirrors the role of professional writers and news producers, which should provide information in a fair and ethical way.
We are all influenced by the media. This is one way that we learn. Being media literate helps us to be influenced by facts and truth, which shapes our opinion. But when false information is intentionally provided to influence us, it can be dangerous. Citizens without media literacy skills are unable to filter out these false messages, and will shape their opinion based on them. For example, they may have been led to believe that all Mexicans are rapists or that all Muslims are terrorists, which will influence their behavior, how they vote, and what laws they support.
Although the candidates have left my state, my concerns about the future of our nation continue. I repeat my prior reflection by stating, “I do not have grand ambitions to change the world, but if I help only a few people to think differently—stepping back to look at a new perspective or being more aware of an issue—then it is worth the effort.”
Altmann, G. (Photographer). Hands-1167619. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/hands-smartphone-news-press-1167619/
Associated Press. (2015, November 22). 58 candidates sign up for New Hampshire primary. Retrieved from http://www.wmur.com/politics/58-candidates-sign-up-for-new-hampshire-primary/36600052
Brooks, A. (2016, January 21). WBUR poll: Large share of N.H.’s undeclared voters yet to settle on a candidate or a party http://www.wbur.org/2016/01/21/new-hampshire-unenrolled-voters-presidential-primary-poll
Team Fix. (2016, February 6). Transcript of the New Hampshire GOP debate, annotated. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/02/06/transcript-of-the-feb-6-gop-debate-annotated/