media houses


As we shut our ears to the cacophony of the other side, the institution of democracy loses its ability to hold people together. 

If the numbers are right, we are moving towards a world where everything is stretched and tied to two ends. Cass Sunstein, a Professor at Harvard University, argued whether the new public sphere woven by the internet acts as ‘echo chambers’ or not. In a paper published in 2002, Sunstein uses activities on Facebook to quantify people’s engagement with the other side. Several studies suggest that while interactions across the ideological divide are almost negligible, the ability to selectively exclude certain pages and people to pop into one’s feed can lead to both polarization and convergence.


Birds of a feather flock together

The idea of homophily is intrinsic to human beings. There’s a tendency to bond and associate with similar others. That is why people of a community tend to hold together in foreign lands. It is also the reason why Indians and Pakistanis bond so well as immigrants in a western country, particularly due to a South Asian affinity.

The feathers begin to rot when they’re painted with political colours. People begin to ignore facts and constantly attempt to prove the other side wrong. Political polarization then extends to sensitive issues like LGBTQ rights, climate change and abortion. The Red states in the US actively deny climate change, even after being exposed to facts which claim the opposite. Groups, therefore, have shared opinions on most issues.

Political Echo Chambers allow think tanks and entrepreneurs to exploit voters by fooling them using certain tactics. They help leaders to present different images to different people, which helps them to secure a place in the heart of every voter. A single leader can be present at many places ideologically, by presenting themselves differently to different kinds of voters.


The Internet as a ‘Public Space’

The bricks of these chambers are placed by the invisible hands of the Internet. With its invention, people believed that the world will now be able to interact with each other in a better manner, thereby filling chests with tolerance and empathy. As a fact, on Facebook, 99.91 per cent of the two billion people on it belongs to a single huge component, and hence everyone is connected to everyone in some manner. Unfortunately, none of this has led to fruitful conversations among people.

For one, sites like Twitter and Facebook function as echo chambers. The design of such websites allows people to adopt a homophilic approach, which narrows the divide between the Internet and the real world. A study of 2.2 million politically engaged users on Twitter in the US finds that while there are roughly 90 million network links among these users, 98 per cent of first retweets of Republican voters come from conservative voters. The corresponding number for Democrats is 86 per cent.


Offline Polarization

But polarization is not limited to the internet users. Fake news was invented long before Facebook, and partisanship existed through newspapers and TV channels. News Channels, to maintain their viewership, picked sides and broke their supposed vow of remaining unbiased. While Fox news moved towards the right, channels like MSNBC started appealing more to liberal voters of the US. A homogeneous audience pushed them towards their extreme sides, something that these channels might not have anticipated. Polarization has increased the most for an older audience, who are least likely to be on the internet and consume articles produced by traditional media houses.


Effect on Preferences

Economists like to assume that preferences are both stable and coherent. But the former might lose ground if the idea of Echo Chambers yields the expected results. Absurd preferences, such as a hatred for blacks, can get intensified with repetitive exposure to similar views. Such peculiar opinions keep persisting due to limited exposure to the other side. Furthermore, the opportunity to choose the news one consumes adds fuel to the fire.


An Ailing Civic Discourse

An understatement would be to say that Echo Chambers do not encompass matters of civic importance. Social media has made it easier for news to originate and circulate, which means that virtually anyone can produce a rumour within seconds, and these chambers can, in turn, empower such people. It kills the production of reliable news and analysis. Moreover, original pieces aren’t credited, since copying something is easier than ever now.

Facts cease to matter after a point. Constant repetition of certain ideas targeted at certain people pushes them into a cult. Ideas become elements of belief for people, an ideology they must hold onto to ‘prevent’ the other side from attacking them. Conversations become violent and stop yielding results. Lack of confrontation in the virtual world erodes mannerism, which encourages sharp language that only results in chaos. As Plato pointed out in Allegory of the Cave, ridiculing the uninformed is the worst form of enlightenment, and radicalization is the only fruit.


The Democracy of the Future

As people get disconnected over a network of connections, the idea of democracy weakens. Polarization, as is evident, happens offline as well, which affects people of all ages. Radical views are supported by numerous people now, and the truth loses its value. Democracy, which is supposed to work for everyone, folds itself into the world of a group of self-conforming individuals who hold mirrors and reflect similar ideas. The walls prevent interaction with the outside world. An example of how a Radio company’s actions in Rwanda led to a mass genocide of fifty thousand people is chilling. The way out of these chambers is unknown since people can customize what they view.

But this choice itself can be a saviour. Experiments show that people choose to move towards the centre when informed about the leanings of all media houses. But such laboratory customized experiments can only reveal a little about this world. We are yet to solve most of our problems.


Featured Image Credits: BBC Future


Kuber Bathla

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There has been a surge in the number of student-run media houses in universities recently. These outlets have an important role to play in the campus ecosystem when it comes to disseminating news and providing students with infotainment.

In the recent past, a surge in the number of media platforms has been observed in the university hemisphere. The mushrooming of student-run media houses stands as a testimony to this fact. To cater to the ever-increasing demand for information by university students, a lot of student-run media houses have been integrated into the campus ecosystem, and their work of student newspapers is to provide this public service to a university audience.

Many students go through distress about not having the official information at the right time. University offices have not been very effective when it comes to disseminating important information. Moreover, help lines issued by the administration do not cater to the students’ questions satisfactorily. More often than not, they are liable to technical glitches and fail to serve the students in the stipulated time frame. A university houses a huge number of students and it gets practically impossible to reach out to every student in person. This gave way to the proliferation of student-run media outlets in the universities.

The need got coupled with technology in the form of smart phones and easy internet access, which created a fertile field for the burgeoning of media houses in the universities. 

These media houses are fast emerging and students believe that it has a thriving market.  There is a steep competition among student-run media outlets, with each of these outlets delivering innovative content in a weekly cycle to outnumber each other’s subscribers. These media outlets are grooming entrepreneurs, writers, marketers, designers, and artists. Today, every student seeks opportunities to acquire practical knowledge by interning at myriad professional platforms. This compensates for the exposure that our university system fails to provide.

Student-run media outlets provide necessary information and promote democratic participation of the students. These media houses instill a sense of responsibility within students and inculcate leadership qualities in them. Not only do they create narratives and make the students aware of the issues around them, but also strive to be accessible to a larger audience.

Rather than just providing high-quality content, student journalists are also dedicated to connecting students, academic departments, alumni, and the world. Universities should acknowledge and encourage the student journalists with bubbling energy and should create porous gateways for the passing of information from the administration to the student-run media outlets to sustain such an ecosystem. 


Feature Image Credits: USA Today

Sandeep Samal
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In the world of “Alternative Facts” and viral WhatsApp forwards, propaganda is a powerful political tool. Propaganda and advertising are inextricably linked and are often difficult to identify.

Propaganda is deliberate manipulation and distortion of facts, popularised through mass media, with the intention of convincing the general population something that may not necessarily be the truth. Propaganda may not always be outright lies, sometimes it means stereotyping, projecting a negative image of a particular community based on a sole incident, hate-speech, fear mongering etc. Conversation regarding propaganda, what it represents, and the kind of influence it holds is more relevant today than ever before. Many experts credit Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 United States Presidential elections to propaganda. By discrediting the entire western liberal media, projecting himself as a highly successful businessman, and calling him an ally of the blue-collar working class he won people over despite having no political experience. In truth Trump is far from what a successful business person looks like. He inherited his wealth and has multiple failed ventures under his belt, some of which include Trump University, Trump Magazine, Trump Steak, Trump Casinos, and Trump Vodka. He plans on introducing tax-reforms that would give tax breaks to billionaires, which is the last thing a blue-collar ally should be doing. Closer home propaganda would mean the endless WhatsApp forwards circulated some of which spread lies and hate about certain communities and groups. Messages like “UNESCO has declared the Indian national anthem, flag, Prime Minister, etc. to be the best” are classic examples of propaganda. Their aim is to placate the masses regarding where the country is heading, perhaps distract people from bigger problems.

Two big questions that come to mind are: first, if propaganda is just psychological manipulation, then is advertising not propaganda? And secondarily, is all propaganda bad? While there is a slight distinction between advertisements and propaganda, the former encourages people to consume certain goods while the latter is a way to cause change in the long term thought process of people; propaganda and advertising are co-dependent tools. Propaganda can be spread through advertisements while advertisements can use propaganda in order in influence consumer behaviour. The greatest example of propaganda in advertising is the “Diamonds are Forever” campaign. Diamond company De Beers, had a monopoly on the diamond market and consecutively they wanted to influence the demand as well. Careful marketing, including articles about Hollywood celebrities and their engagement rings, ad-campaigns correlating a man’s love for his sweetheart, even his personal success to the size of the diamond on his fiancés finger made rounds. Marilyn Monroe coquettishly singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friends” influenced and underlined the importance of diamonds. Diamonds are far from rare and cannot last forever; they can very well be chipped, shattered, and damaged. But the propaganda and advertising in this campaign was so thorough that even a century later people continue to regard a big diamond as the ultimate token of love. Our spending habits, our voting patterns, and our lifestyles are influenced by advertising and propaganda, more so than we will ever know.

However, propaganda and advertising are not always bad. Anti-smoking, anti-drunk driving campaigns are all forms of propaganda as well. They instil fear in the mind of viewers are can often exaggerate the influence of smoking on one’s health, but their impact on society is positive. This form of propaganda discourages a lot of people from taking up the habit of smoking. During the Second World War the “Rosie the Riveter” campaign that showed a woman in a blue shirt and red bandana flexing her muscles was also a form of propaganda that encouraged women to participate more actively in the war effort by working in factories and industries. The “Dunkirk Spirit” and the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters are also examples of British propaganda that helped boost the morale of the people and contributed to the victory of the Allies and the ultimate defeat of the Nazis and Fascists.

In 2018, the context of propaganda has changed. Propaganda is not an exclusive tool of governments anymore. Media houses, political candidates, and anyone with enough resources can contribute to propaganda and spread hysteria, panic, and hate. Our world is not solely the world of televised advertisements and posters anymore. Alternative facts, viral stories, and a personalised Facebook feed that strategically shows you posts similar to your beliefs is a dangerous combination that makes us all vulnerable of believing in fake news. In order to identify problematic news pieces here are a few steps we can take-

1. Believe news sourced from verified media outlets only– a large number of small websites, blogs, and pages have popped up that share misinformation or deliberately distort facts in order to incite hate or fear. Most of these pages are paid by political parties and their purpose is to advance a particular ideology. Following unbiased and verified media outlets, and believing their stories exclusively would be a good way to not engage with these propaganda tools.

2. Examine financial and familial ties between the media houses you follow– is a particular news channel presenting a biased version of current events? Are you seeing a spike in the number of one-sided stories they are publishing? Doing a small google search on whether that media house is financed by a major politician or their family member would be another good step that could give you additional clarity.

3. Notice leaders who discredit media outlets that speak against them– If a political candidate speaks against any media house that highlights their problematic behaviour, calls them fake news or tries to question their legitimacy, it is a sign that they are trying to control the narrative around them by discrediting free media. It is an alarming sign that should not be underestimated. By effectively discrediting press, one silences their opponents or at least makes their words redundant- this is a common tool employed by authoritarian leaders, and one we must watch out for.

4. Name calling, generalisation and stereotyping– When people in the public eye try to call their political opponent names, use racial or derogatory slurs for them, try to generalise the behaviour of fringe groups and extremists as that of the whole community, use lone incidents in order to stereotype a group, it is propaganda at its finest. These things when done repeatedly over an extended period of time can make most people hateful and prejudiced. Such irresponsible behaviour should always be called out and discredited immediately, especially if made by people revered and followed in the public eye.

It is impossible to avoid all forms of advertising and propaganda- the two are deeply rooted in modern society. What we can do is keep ourselves alert and informed. By being conscientious, responsible, and considerate we can reduce the negative impact of propaganda.


Feature Image Credits: The Advocate

Kinjal Pandey
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