There are a number of concerns implicit in today’s media-dominated society regarding the ideas and values projected and perpetuated through the mass media.
The effects theory argues that the media exerts a definite and powerful influence over the thoughts and actions of passive, vulnerable and exploitable audiences (Strinati, 2004). However, the intense debates surrounding recent tragedies and social ills reveals the implications of instinctively blaming the media without a more nuanced understanding of the contexts by which audiences are shaped.
Individuals are subject to particular personal, social and cultural conditions which influences their perceptions and behaviour. This can range from family dysfunction, alcoholism and marital breakdowns to depression, poverty and neglect. As a result, it is impossible to deduce that the media is the sole perpetrator of contemporary issues such as violence amongst youth, cyber-bullying, sexting, alcohol misuse, obesity and eating disorders. While the media is a powerful institution which facilitates the flow of content, it is only with the engagement of audiences and their backgrounds that meaning is produced.
For example, popular assumption is that social media caused the death of TV presenter Charlotte Dawson, who was the victim of vicious cyber bullying and Twitter trolls in 2012 (Duxbury, 2014) while also battling depression. However, Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements points out that all abusive remarks, regardless of their origin, have adverse impacts for individuals struggling with mental health issues (Satherley, 2014). Similarly, it is unreasonable to presume that warfare-style video games were the catalyst for Adam Lanza’s mass murdering at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 (Chalk, 2013) when there were a multitude of other personal factors affecting his sensibility (Curry, 2013).
It is also argued that the media plays a key part in popular viral drinking game “Neknominate” which involves posting a video of someone downing drinks in an extreme manner and then nominating others to do the same (‘Drinking Game Turns Deadly’, 2014). However, can it be blamed for the deaths of these excessive risk takers who are putting themselves into these dangerous situations?
In all of these circumstances, the debate surrounding the effects theory has taken the form of a
“moral panic”, whereby the perceived dangers of media content have been exaggerated and misdirected through public concern (Krinsky, 2013). Moving forward, it is essential to understand that the media is only a conduit for communication, with it being the individuals using these platforms who provoke certain behaviours and make judgments on their meanings.
Strinati, D., 2004, ‘An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture – Second Edition’, Routledge, retrieved 15 March 2014, <http://antropologi.fib.ugm.ac.id/wp-content/uploads/Dominic-Strinati-An-Introduction-to-Theories-of-Popular-Culture.pdf>.
Duxbury, J., 2014, ‘Cyber bullying: easy to perpetrate, hard to stop’, The Sydney Morning Herald – Comment, retrieved 15 March 2014, <http://www.smh.com.au/comment/cyber-bullying-easy-to-perpetrate-hard-to-stop-20140305-347ck.html>.
Satherley, D., 2014, ‘Don’t blame social media for Dawson’s death – expert’, 3 News, retrieved 15 March 2014, <http://www.3news.co.nz/Dont-blame-social-media-for-Dawsons-death—expert/tabid/417/articleID/333368/Default.aspx>.
Chalk, A., 2013, ‘Cop Blames Videogames For Sandy Hook Massacre’, The Escapist, retrieved 15 March 2014, <http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/122752-Cop-Blames-Videogames-For-Sandy-Hook-Massacre>.
Curry, C., 2013, ‘Newton Massacre Result of Mental Illness, Access to Guns, Death Obsession’, ABC News, retrieved 15 March 2014, <http://abcnews.go.com/US/newtown-massacre-result-mental-illness-access-guns-death/story?id=21003690>.
‘Drinking Game Turns Deadly! This New Social Media Fad Is Being Blamed For Killing 5 People!’, PerezHiltion.com, retrieved 15 March 2014, <http://perezhilton.com/2014-02-19-drinking-game-fad-blamed-for-killing-five-people#.U0nFUsaDpZi>.
Krinsky, C., 2013, ‘Introduction: The Moral Panic Concept’, Ashgate Research Companion, retrieved 15 March 2014, <http://www.ashgate.com/pdf/SamplePages/Ashgate-Research-Companion-to-Moral-Panics-Intro.pdf>.