I am sure you all have heard this before; to understand where something (in this case, an industry) is going you have to understand where it has been. The act of individually communicating to larger audiences has been prevalent since our early human like ancestors normalized social activities millions of years ago. There are theorists (Robert Sussman) who credit our ancestors ability to cooperate with each other to alter their surroundings as the most important key to human survival. His theory debunks a Judeo-Christian ideology which argues that early humans were war like and inherently evil. Sussman, an anthropologist at Washington University suggests, if you study and thoroughly examine human fossils and living non-human primate evidence, you will find that primitive humans were prey and not predators. Meaning, there was once a time when we were invariably eaten alive by prehistoric beast. However, this changed after we realized our survival relied on our commitment to fight together as opposed to fighting against each other. With our safety in hand, we went on to build a society and habitats for ourselves in nature and with that came our ability to share information and communicate to mass audiences which has been and still is vital to our exceptional survival. I envision an early instance of mass communication within early humans being like this scene from Planets of the Apes when Caesar screamed loudly while standing on top of a car with his pack behind him.
One amazing outcome of the studying of mass communication and mass media are the many mass communication theories that were introduced to us within the past century. I will briefly explain a few of the most prominent theories and the roles they play in human society.
The theory derives from the Authoritarian philosophy of Plato. Plato believed the state was only safe in the hands of a few wise men. In this case, mass media was not in direct control of the state but it was in the best interests of the press to follow the state’s rules. Authoritarian means of control over the media has been seen by both dictatorial and democratic governments.
Free Press Theory
As expected, the counter movement to Authoritarianism theory of mass media put the rights of the individual before the rights of the state. Meaning, the people now had the right to say whatever they wanted, when they wanted. The origin of this theory dates back to the 17th century when the invention of the printing press made it possible to print multiple copies of pamphlets and books for cheap. Tau, Milton and Locke were all advocates of the Free Press Theory.
Social Responsibility Theory
With TV, radio and film emerging as the major form of media in the 20th century came the moral need to hold media publishers accountable. This theory suggested that media publishers had an obligation to tell society the truth for the betterment of humanity.
Magic Bullet Theory
This theory was a result of the propaganda efforts after World World 1 when the American government would feed information to the American public and the public would have to believe it because there wasn’t anywhere to go for alternative perspectives. This theory suggest that mass media could intentionally control people’s thoughts and behaviors.
Agenda Setting Theory
According to this theory when the media concentrates on a few issues or subjects, the public will perceive those issues as more important than others. Example: Hilliary Clintons emails lol.
This theory says there are people who decides which information will go forward and which will not. Similar to the Authoritarian theory and the Agenda Setting theory, only one perspective is pushed.
These six theories are only a few of the most relevant mass communication theories around. But to understand these theories and their influence on society, you have to understand modern day mass media platforms for which today’s content producers are using to communicate and share information. In 2016 we realized the media’s role in society has never been more questionable. We are living in the ever growing age of information overload. There has never been an easier time to put information into society nor has there been an easier time to find information. From the phenomenon that is fake news and the democratization of online news; today’s media experiences are impacting the entire world and not for the better.
Two years ago I made a prediction that Facebook will become the Tumblr of website links and that prediction was arguably accurate. The reblog button on Tumblr is probably their most used feature. Interestingly enough, the share button on Facebook has been gaining mass popularity. There was a product I used to use a few years ago — I forgot the name of it — but it would allow me to visit random websites from all over the web with the push of a button. Every time I pressed a button it would take me to a new website. This is what Facebook has become but the button has been replaced with the act of scrolling. I recently checked my home feed and 29 of the first 40 posts were shared posts. And according to Facebook’s algorithm, the post that gets shared the most by my friends will appear at the top of your feed regardless of its relevance or date.
Example: A friend of mine has amassed 5,000+ friends on Facebook since joining the service in 2007. He’s from inner city America and in the past ten years he has attended three universities and has held four positions at large companies. So you can imagine the diversified interests of his friends on Facebook. One day I received a text from him saying: What do you think about Denzel Washington endorsing Donald Trump? Enraged at first, I then asked where he learned this news from and if he would mind sharing the article. The article was from a fake news publication and in a span of 24 hours it was shared by 11 of his Facebook friends so it ended up being the first thing he saw when he logged on.
Instead of ending abuse, spam and removing bots Twitter has been allocating resources to specific products in hopes of becoming a big media business. So today, what you get from Twitter is sub par product releases like Moments and women and minorities being habitually abused. I also don’t think you can speak about Twitter without mentioning the MVT (Most Valuable Tweeter) of 2016, Donald Trump. “In an attempt to bypass the institutions that would keep his lies in check, Trump goes straight to Twitter to speak to the masses without challenge, filter or context.” There has not been a day in 2016 where Donald Trump was absent from my twitter timeline! It sucks lol.
Both platforms enable its users to speak freely (Free Press Theory) but at what cost? Why am I forced to read a tweet I would rather not see or read negative and fake headlines every time I log onto Facebook? What about when I was forced hear about Hillary Clinton’s emails for 90 straight days because that’s all the media cared about? (Agenda Setting Theory) If I have 5,000 friends on Facebook, can an algorithm tell me which post I want to see from which friends? Facebook news feed algorithms are an example of the Authoritarian theory where only the people who know how to optimize their post for shares and those who pay to promote their post will get their content seen. Twitter provided a platform where a dictator like figure can say whatever he wants, even if it is not true in and attempt to intentionally control people’s thoughts and behaviors (Magic Bullet Theory). If you study the history of mass media and where we are today it is really easy to see the where future of mass media is headed. Do not let me steer you wrong, Facebook will be around for a while and so will quirky social media platforms like Snapchat because they touch on the affective, personal/social integrative and tension release needs that people care for. But they will not be the most effective mass media platforms in the near future because they fail to address one of the biggest problems of the Information Age, curation.
Most mass communication theories explain the effects media has on people but there is another theory I did not mention above; the Uses and Gratification Approach which explains how people use media for their personal needs and gratification. This is completely opposite of the Magic Bullet theory which says the audience is passive and will just accept any message that is told to them. The Uses and Gratifications theory suggests that people take an active role in interpreting media into their own lives to fulfill specific gratifications which will eventually force the media to compete against other information sources for viewer’s gratification.
Today’s superfluous flow of information combined with the new era of media manipulation will cause people to be more meticulous when deciding which types of content they want to opt into and which ones they do not. On today’s platforms we casually opt into content not because we truly care for the content but rather because it is the socially acceptable thing to do. We follow people on Twitter and Instagram because they followed us first and when we want want to unfollow them we refrain because of the backlash we may receive. We press the accept button and like company pages on Facebook without thinking about the noise it will bring to our newsfeeds. In the next 20 years we will approach mass media the same we approach our music. If current and past forms of mass media were like the radio where you had to listen to 20 songs before you heard the song you truly liked, the next 20 years of mass media will be similar to Spotify where you can chose the song you want to listen to, when you want to listen to it. Instead of creating crafty algorithms to figure out what content matters the most to people, new media platforms will have to ask users this one simple question:
At this very moment in your life, what content do you care about the most in this world?
And our job is to figure out how to get this content to them in a timely manner. This is why we are building The Blast App. For content producers Blastchat is a mobile platform that gives everyone their own push notification so they can share information with their core audience faster than any other time in history. For recipients Blastchat is a platform that allows everyone to anonymously opt into the content they care about the most! The goal is to provide a platform where people have instant access to to the information they truly care about, a second after it is made available. The challenge of the next 20 years is how do we help users curate and separate the information they truly want from all of the other useless information that is out there. This is something Facebook and Twitter are struggling with because those platforms were not built for content curation but rather for mass consumption.
We are the first to try to tackle this problem and I am sure we will not be the last.
Check us out here: www.theblast.app