State-run media? Probably.
Donald Trump has already shown himself to be an opponent of the First Amendment, but somebody will stop him right? He can’t just get rid of the First Amendment.
He doesn’t have to. He’s already set the wheels in motion to have state-run media, or something very close to it.
Buzzfeed reports that anonymous staffers at Breitbart came forward to allege that the site had accepted funds from Trump for favorable coverage. Stephen Bannon, who took over the site in 2012 and is widely believed to be a white nationalist, played an advisory role in Trump’s campaign and now is slated to be his senior advisor at the White House — a de facto chief of staff from the sound of it, even though RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will actually hold the title.
After Bannon’s intended appointment was announced, a former Breitbart spokesperson even told the New York Times he suspected the conservative/alt-right site would be the closest thing the United States has ever seen to state-run media.
But how would it happen?
Since the election, Facebook has taken steps to prevent some fake news stories from being so widely spread. Even Google has gotten in the act, with a promise to identify fake news sites and prevent them from using the platform’s advertising services.
While this may help, the question remains: Why do people love sharing fake news so much? And why don’t they seem to care that it’s fake?
This is largely due to confirmation bias, the “ tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions” (definition from Science Daily). If you think Hillary Clinton is a crook, it’s really easy to believe the story that pops up in your Facebook timeline claiming that the FBI discovered new emails about her corruption. If you’re certain Trump is a raging racist, you’ll likely readily buy the idea that a tape emerged of him spouting the ‘N’ word.
This also helps explain why left-leaning and right-leaning news media have become so popular in recent years. They’re music to the ears of their fan base, which eats up everything they say. It’s why Breitbart found its niche with the alt-right.
Then you have traditional major media outlets, like The New York Times and the Washington Post. Newsrooms small and large, whether print or broadcast, have struggled to keep up with digital innovation, leading to fewer editors and reporters and more click-bait headlines, consolidated media groups and cessation of publication for newspapers in some major cities.
Myth-buster site Snopes contends in an interview with Business Insider that this decline in mainstream media is partially to blame for people’s willingness to accept fake news. They say the public has lost faith in these media outlets, and they aren’t wrong.
This is where we circle back around to Donald Trump and the narrative he has created about the media. In tweets, he has repeatedly bashed the mainstream media, claiming that they are reporting falsely about him, that large newspapers are failing, and much more. During the general election campaign, he pushed the narrative that the mainstream media were all biased in favor of Clinton and that they were helping to ‘rig’ the election.
In short, he has been working to further undermine public trust in the mainstream media. When you combine that with the confirmation bias specifically experienced by those on his side of the political spectrum, you end up with a political base that is looking for something they perceive to be a credible news source that confirms their existing beliefs. Thus the stage is set for state-run media.
The result is likely to be further polarization on the political spectrum. Leftist media will go further left, and rightist media will veer further right, and partisan struggles will continue to be amplified in government. Because confirmation bias exists on both sides, many Americans will pick one and become hardliners for their pet causes.
In national politics, this could cause one of two things: Either bi-partisanship follows the route of the American public, making the government even more inefficient and congressional representatives even less likely to cross party lines, or it will lead to a strong moderate movement and potentially the creation of a third party that can actually compete on the national level.
The American public must learn to consume media responsibly, fast, and that means being able and willing to listen to dissenting viewpoints. If we can’t, a form of state-run media will almost certainly happen within the next year or two, and people will tout it as a First Amendment victory.