Social Media and the Movement of Ideas

People’s interpretation of people and public opinions are influenced by individual images, known as stereotypes. Edward Kessler’s “Social Media and the Movement of Ideas” explains the role that social media has throughout the modern society. Kessler describes social media as not only a communication tool, but also a connection tool.

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Because of the freedom granted through social media, no restrictions are placed. This condition allows for users to post inappropriate/inaccurate content. Consequently, the increase in user-generated content allows for false information to proliferate online (Kessler). By viewing these false assumptions/stereotypes, the decision making process and social judgement of many viewers could potentially be altered. The social cognitive theory additionally suggests that television viewers have an indirect ability to gain knowledge and skills rapidly through the information displayed on the various platforms of media, including reality tv shows and video games (Dong, Qingwen, Murillo). For example, although millions of American women and men have begun to reject the cultural expectation that a woman’s place is in the home, advertisements of women house roles continue to reinforce the false belief. This has caused children to incorrectly assume a woman’s role from the advertisements (Lull). Minority groups, such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans, are also depicted as villains or criminals in their appearances on tv. Although they are rarely seen in the media to begin with, they are often given these stereotypes when on media. These stereotypical depictions featured in tv shows, marketed ages 3-65, can lead us to behave more negatively towards these groups (Sharples, Gould). Throughout the previous hundred years, reality TV shows and video games have promoted stereotypes regarding Gender Roles, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans.

Recently, scientists have discovered that brains react far stronger when people are presented with negative information about a group, consequently fortifying negative views they may hold. A team of UK researchers scanned the brains of participants while they carried out a learning task. Researchers found that once people had decided a group was “good”, they continued to process negative information about them, with far more activity in certain brain regions. When people were learning about fictional groups, scans showed that activity in the brain region increased. Whenever they had decided a group was “good”, the activity dropped to normal levels; however, it did the opposite for when the group was designated as “bad” (O’ Hare.) This study conducted gives further proof that the brain is not automatically wired to prejudice among other individuals, but it is rather through outside forces, such as media, that influence a child’s mind.

The impacts on children and other viewers of television portrayals of various groups is significant because of its ability to activate racial stereotypes (Dong, Qingwen, Murillo). Information is most widely spread across social media, with the traditional media being a close second. With this comes various social issues being talked about on media platforms, like reality tv shows. Researchers agree that children establish sex-roles early in life and that tv contributes to sex-role expectations. In children TV shows, such as Teletubbies and Barney & Friends, children quickly learn that their lives has to do with masculinity and femininity. Some may blame the presence of gender stereotypes among children on the way brains are wired; however, studies have proven that there is nothing in biology that labels behaviors as right or wrong, normal or abnormal, etc. This means that any stereotypes imposed on children are purely cultural and emerge from the media, including reality tv shows. Because a main source of cultural gendered messages is television, children who watch up to 4 hours daily on average acquire information about societal standards. Mark Barner, a researcher on the issue, examined the sex-role stereotypes in the FCC mandated children’s programming, targeted at children aged 5 years and older. As expected, Barner found that women were portrayed in passive roles such as housewives, waitresses, and secretaries, while men were seen in active roles as construction workers and doctors. Consequently, four and five-year old children had strong gender stereotyped expectations of television actors, with the strongest being of masculine roles (Powell, Abels).

Reality TV shows often incorporate an excessive amount of stereotypes marketed towards children. Hispanic American actors are not featured often on television programming; however, when they do play roles, they are often portrayed in crime shows as criminals or thieves. Occasionally, they also play the roles of comedians and various other comical roles. This would consequently promote negative stereotypes about Hispanic Americans. Because of this observation, a researcher conducted a study investigating college students’ perceptions of television stereotypes. The researcher found that when white people viewed stereotypical television portrayals of minorities in a comedic context, white people tended to perceive minority individuals in a stereotypical manner. The study proved mass media’s impact on social perception by showing that television roles of shows can influence perceptions towards minority groups, such as the Hispanic Americans. Therefore, comical racial stereotypes portrayed on television may contribute to White people’s negative stereotypes towards Hispanic Americans. The minority group has also been consistently portrayed as “socially disadvantaged” on television and have consequently been 50% less likely to occupy professional occupations than have White Americans. Through constant exposure to racial stereotypes on television programming, media stereotypes “could maintain unjust, harmful, and dominating understandings of race by influencing the way individuals interpret media text.” Throughout the experiment, an assumption was made saying that television viewers would develop stereotypes towards Hispanic individuals through a process of social learning if direct communication is lacking. Many results were gathered from the experiment that support the idea that reality tv shows promote stereotypes. One of them included the idea that the more individuals depended on television for their understanding of other races such as Hispanic Americans, the more likely they tended to develop negative stereotypes towards Hispanic Americans. However, when creating direct contact with Hispanic individuals, the study showed that more positive stereotypes were prominent.

Overall, the study helped create a better understanding of the impact of television on individuals’ negative stereotypes. The study showed that White Americans tend to develop negative stereotypes when they depend on television to learn about them. The more negative images are shown on television, the more likely the viewers pick up the images and develop their stereotypes. The study also suggested that instead of relying on the tv, direct contact between individuals was crucial to developing a more accurate understanding of the various cultures. This experiment also argues against the hypothesis that brains are naturally wired to stereotypes. Sure, people presented with negative information react stronger, but they do not automatically come up with the racial stereotypes. (Dong, Murrillo).

Stereotypes undoubtedly affect an individual’s judgement about a group of people; however it also negatively impacts the group being miconcepted. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, killing more than a thousand people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. The hurricane itself was horrendous, but the natural disaster was reportedly turned into something even worse for American races. The media had repeatedly broadcasted images of black people, often described as “looting in the wake of the storm” (Sharples, Gould). According to a study by James Johnson and colleagues, these types of images lead white people to endorse harsh treatment of black evacuees. An example of this includes not allowing them to seek refuge in another parish. Participants were not any less likely to help white evacuees, suggesting that racial stereotypes of blacks as criminals may have played a role. If the media had not placed these negative connotations among the African-Americans, they would have received more help, and other citizens would not be hesitant to help the Black evacuees. After all, the only cause of this disaster was the media and its’ ability to stereotype African Americans (Sharples, Gould).

It is no news that today U.S. adolescents dedicate a large portion of their time to playing video games. A recent study found that, on average, eighth and ninth grade girls play video games about five hours a week and boys at the same age play, on average, 13 hours a week. One of the consequences of exposure to video games is the reinforcement of negative stereotypes, such as portrayals of males in dominant roles and as overly masculine violent heroes, and of females in submissive, seuxally exploitive roles — as busty, brainless, victims of aggression. Video games like Grand Theft Auto portray and even reward sexualilzed violence towards women without emphasizing any negative consequences to the perpetrator. Previous research has shown that aggressive behavior increases when violence is perceived as normative and socially approved. Since many of the popular video games today contain both stereotypical and aggressive content, it is likely that large amounts of time spent playing video games will have a negative effect on adolescents’ social cognitive development, desensitizing them to genders stereotypes and sexualized violence against women in society. The way we grow up and develop socially is a complex process involving multiple factors such as our genes, physical environment, exposure to chemicals, parental influence, and cultural influences. Because video games offer many possibilities for cheap and easy entertainment, it is easy for stereotypes to easily be incorporated. Stereotypes used in video games are created from two distinct areas, with one are being culture. They come from socialization, beliefs, values, and social norms. “Stereotypes may reflect reality, and a group may indeed have some aspects of the stereotypical belief, and this leads to the common acceptance of the stereotype. This process is known as the “kernel of truth” (Deskins.) For example, although Grand Theft Auto has never been known for political correctness, the adventures of criminals and the underground found new limits to crash through with the homosexual club owner and crime lord – Gay Tony. Tony Princy, the real name of the criminal, is a “flamboyant, amoral, drug-addicted caricature of a homosexual character living in Liberty City. Killzone also does an amazing job of FPS excitement, detailed storytelling and offending two minority groups in one move. Rico Velasquez could easily come off as a black man but his name is Hispanic. Velasquez is apparently the most ignorant and foul-mouthed character in the Killzone universe. Velasquez is far dumber than the Helghan AI and the random troops that run into the background battlefield” (Hunter).

Gender stereotypes are deeply ingrained in our society, meaning it’s impossible to protect your child completely from them. By adjusting what parents tell their children, stereotypes to girls and boys could be prevented. Comments to girls about “looking very pretty” and boys “growing to be big and strong” can make children believe that their other characteristics are less important. It is clear that seeing groups presented in a positive way is important for improving attitudes. However, if we as individuals are not able to avoid seeing negative depictions of minority groups, then it’s important to find ways to buffer ourselves against the effects.

The first step to doing is recognizing negative stereotypes in the media when you see them, label them as stereotypes, and resist their influence on how you respond to the group. There is some evidence that challenging stereotypic responses when they occur is an important tool in combating our explicit and implicit prejudices. Studies have found that people who have had more social interaction with minority group members will be less likely affected. Because they have more varied representations of what members of the group are truly like, negative representations would not be effective in shaping how they treat people from that group. For children, however, they need to still be aware of stereotypes to minimize the effect. When you consume media with your child, you can point out stereotypes when you see them and explain that the stereotype is not representative of the group. Although stereotypes are still broadcast to us through media, we can resist their influence when we acknowledge that they exist and that they are a problem. Moreover, we can use media as a tool to come into contact with different social groups that we may otherwise not have contact with and to learn experiences. In doing so, prejudices could be reduced.

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