The Subtleties of American Propaganda
Brigham #escapism #social media #opinion
Social media, news media, and advertisements comprise many of the images we see daily, but many people simply accept this virtual reality instead of questioning its existence. Modern man has been moved to look through windows into many detached experiences through the mediums of social media and news that no other generation has been subjected to. The structure of this intake of information has led to a new way of consuming and producing news. Scrolling through Twitter, Facebook or TikTok for fifteen minutes could present you with pictures from a NASA expedition to a porn ad, a cute puppy video to one about the climate crisis, or an old family photo to a debate over gun control between your cousin and uncle.
Our indifference in disregarding each post for the next has distorted the perception of which stories we inherently value over others. These platforms have developed a massive audience, unprecedented throughout the course of human history, and our government has taken advantage of this. The CIA has admitted that it has influence in a range of sources within the sphere of news media, and recent reforms of the National Defense Authorization Act have made it legal to produce domestic propaganda for US citizens’ consumption (Adl-Tabatabai & Kelley). The collective use of social media has been weaponized against its users to promote mass-consumerism and retain the status quo. Nationalist propaganda has been one of, if not the most vital weapon at the disposal of the American government, and social media is their atomic bomb.
Throughout the 20th Century journalists dominated the news industry and were relied upon for deciphering the worth of each story. They condensed the massive amounts of information in their possession into the most worthwhile for their readers and viewers. There was much less freedom in the hands of the public regarding what information they were exposed to in terms of access. Today, the average person can open their smartphone and find articles about seemingly any topic of their choosing, and social media algorithms decide which stories are worth showing to the individual. On the surface this seems like a massive improvement in reporting and news coverage, but data analysts, psychologists, and engineers are aiming to simply keep you engaged with their platform. They have developed reward systems that affect our brain chemistry in a way that keeps us coming back for more. The actions we take and thoughts we express online seem to do more than tangible work or activism does, which disillusions us into deriving more self-worth and a larger sense of commitment to our virtual lives.
This phenomena of escapism— accepting one’s dismal real-life existence for a favorable online presence— is an incredibly manipulative disbursement of a complacent, consumerist attitude. We are pushed to buy faddish product after faddish product as a solution to the problems we are told we have by businesses that simply care about making a profit. We are told to model our lives off successful people who cater their lives to us as an unattainable playlist of their best moments. The media-induced romanticism we attribute to our lives is the largest tool of our suppressive government. The spectacle-oriented society that has come to fruition is unsustainable, but more importantly, it’s incredibly dangerous.
News outlets have an ethical commitment to providing accurate stories without misleading the public, but they are also a business. As more sources have arisen since the early 2000s, especially on TV and the internet, these companies have had to fight to retain and grow their audiences. Competing for viewers creates a conflict of interest between transparent coverage of a story and theatrical portrayals of the same story. There is a daily battle for the biggest headline which is disregarded the following day by its replacement. This way of taking in knowledge on social media does not allow for critical thinking or promote reading comprehension, but rather looks to deliver a surplus of information as efficiently as possible, almost like a fast-food restaurant for journalism. We all know that fast-food is lacking in its substance, but convenience trumps the content, so we choose to be ignorant for the sake of time. This ignorance slowly develops into a habit of no longer thinking about the prior point. The same situation has transpired with the consumption of information, as people actively choose to get as much information as they can without lingering on any single story for too long. Our willingness to conform to this way of life is suppressing our ability to think freely. It is numbing our awareness to the true phenomena occurring around us and is an active concession of our free-will.
The comment systems attached to these posts further limit free thought and create a herd mentality of non-critical thinking. Groups of isolated individuals stuck in the echo-chamber of social media algorithms and comment sections have been trapped in dangerous ideologies from the likes of Ben Shapiro, Stephen Crowder, and Jordan Peterson, among others. Similarly, viewers of FOX News, CNN, and other mainstream news channels have been trapped in their own uncritical ways of thought, as their ideas are never under scrutiny, and the ideas they possess are not their own. Being isolated in thought is limiting for the individual as well as a collective society.
The increased integration of identity politics over the last eight years or so has also damaged collective dialogue. People have begun attributing their identity to their ideology, and as a result, emotionally charged conversations take up the most airtime, while rational debate has taken a backseat role in political commentary. We are being actively divided into voting demographics and statistics for politicians to increase their power at the hands of addictive applications. We are lulled into a false sense of security through constant affirmation and a relinquishment of free-thought. It’s comforting to simply watch someone else think about and analyze the issues you find important, but it resembles a dictatorial way of calling people to act and turns the audience into mindless consumers of rhetoric.
The world has shrunk to fit in our pockets, and the performances we put on feel like we’re contributing to something, when in reality we’re falling into the hands of the oppressive individuals and institutions that seek our return to the seemingly important digital world. It’s critical that we increase our awareness of the blatant mass manipulation occurring everyday in the palm of our hands. Social media can be used as a tool towards progress, and the potential for good is just as large as the potential for bad. We need to use our virtual canvases to educate, socialize, and promote dialogue with others rather than submitting ourselves to the wants and needs of social media developers and politicians.
Adl-Tabatabai, Sean. “CIA Admit They Have Infiltrated Every Mainstream Media Outlet in America.” News Punch, 3 May 2021, https://newspunch.com/cia-infiltrated-mainstream-media/.
Kelley, Michael B. “The NDAA Legalizes the Use of Propaganda on the US Public.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 May 2012, https://www.businessinsider.com/ndaa-legalizes-propaganda-2012-5.