The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming course in media literacy offered by Synapse Services. For more information, please send email to pdunn [at] synapsehub.com.
Today’s modern media landscape is shaping and confusing the minds of young people at warp speed. They may not realize it. Even adults trained in critical thinking and academic analysis get confused with the incessant noise and suspect claims that flow freely across the multi-channel, multi-device media world.
One of the big problems is that advertising and persuasion mechanisms are baked right into the product, and it’s now easier than ever to insert it, track it, retarget consumers and generally dupe people into misinformed positions in order to cultivate:
· Buying decisions
· Political decisions
· Medical decisions
· Financial decisions
· Lifestyle choices
· And other related drivers of everyday living and long-term planning
None of this is particularly new. It’s just that the science of scamming, duping, cajoling and nudging is getting dangerously competent. Unfortunately, advertisers have taken wisdom from books like Robert Cialdini’s Persuasion (FEAR: “People are more motivated by what they stand to lose than by what they stand to gain.”), and turned it loose within the worlds of print journalism, TV, radio, podcasting and elsewhere. The upcoming generation of consumers is facing some of the smartest, most irresistible messaging techniques in history. The snake oil salesman is not as easily identifiable as he once was.
Savvy companies now view the media as hired storytellers to be manipulated on their behalf (many have always held this view). Donald Trump is the current master of the trade. Hillary had a great persuasion team, as well, with Robert Cialdini at the helm.
Today, bogus outfits like Buzzfeed and Vice rule content production, while technology behemoths like Apple, Google and Facebook control advertising delivery methods. In years past, centralized juggernauts like the CBS Evening News, The Wall Street Journal, various magazine and radio conglomerates, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, NPR and Pravda managed to guide public discourse (and the associated commercial interests) with relative ease. There was supposed to be an impenetrable wall between advertising and editorial, but those formats, by their very nature, were PR channels, as well. Large businesses, like professional sports teams, amphitheaters, movie studios, Fortune 500 companies, and similar concerns enjoyed steady coverage in exchange for pay-to-play advertising expenditures. Politicians used these old platforms to great effect, as well (and great expense).
In decades past, the editor influenced and controlled your “feed.” Now you and your friends do to some extent. The platforms that control information presentation algorithms have a significant amount of control, as well (Facebook, Google, Apple). We may soon see a day when actual headlines are customized based on your public profiles, fears, wants and individual quirks.
In order to navigate these new mine fields with some sanity, the best thing a student (young or old) can do is to get smart about how they’re being manipulated and pitched.
Highlights from our course outline and upcoming textbook follow.
Media Rebel Course Goals
How do we want the students to leave the course?
- Ability to analyze and combat advertising strategies and be intentional about our consumer choices
- Possess critical thinking skills that allow them to examine the motivations, economics and powers behind 1) Entertainment, 2) News and 3) Advertising media. (in order of emotional impact)
- Ability to lucidly debate and explain the modern media landscape
- Make better life decisions based on a clearer view of how the media world works
What are we rebelling against?
- Sleight of hand
Please leave your email (upper right) to be notified when the complete course is available.