Model Essay: Critical Analysis

The Influence of Mass Media

Everyday decisions about many aspects of modern life are in large part the outcome of influence from the mass media. Whether it is purchasing habits, a decision about dinner out, or a choice about voting for one's government representatives, people's perceptions and behaviors have likely been shaped at least in part by the opinions and preferences broadcast in the mass media. It is safe to say that many people are at least moderately unaware of the extent to which they are influenced in all facets of life by the preferences and opinions—both subtle and overt—of the mass media.

Mass media includes a vast, diverse and powerful smorgasbord of options. Some of these have been present for hundreds of years; others have risen in popularity within the last decade or two:

broadcast media: TVs, radio, film, CDs, DVDs
print media: newspapers, magazines, journals, leaflets, flyers
Internet/social media: Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, blogs, wikis, email
outdoor media: billboards, signs, public speaking

All these methods reach billions of people every day. Internet and social media became part of mass media only a brief time after their launch and have enormous influence today. Facebook's ability to “Like” every entry—including products—or Twitter's invitation to “Follow” a person or a business entity are the social media techniques that attract and affect many millions. For marketers, the advantages of Internet advertising are clear: its comparative low cost, immediate reach, and wide distribution throughout the world make it a favorite. In some markets, online advertising is more prevalent than newspaper advertising. Making everyday purchases, we almost have to stop and ask ourselves whether it is the online echo chamber or we are actually making an independent decision.

Online or in person, the influence permeates and dominates perceptions, and one primary and obvious focus is marketing. In the online world, there seems to be the expectation that visitors to a website are somewhat impulsive buyers. Commercial websites often provide a special offer encouraging a fast purchase of the latest gimmick on the Internet. Downtown at the department store, the Christmas displays begin in September, months before December 25th. The stores start playing Christmas carols before Halloween. Your newspaper or television alerts you to start shopping, admonishing to go downtown and collect your share of the season's bargains.

The media can also dominate and influence viewers' civic thinking and attitudes. It can characterize striking workers, for example, in a good or bad light or a country's action as helpful or harmful to neighboring countries. TV ads may have the effect of making you get up for a bowl of ice cream or stressing over your weight, but they may also persuade you to vote for a candidate or to donate to a cause. Political pundits/entertainers can have millions following their often unsubstantiated tales, believing they are true. If not always truthful, the incessant appeal of these forms of communication is emotional and powerful.

If media can influence our decisions in such basic ways, is it going too far to suggest that mass media unduly control our thinking? And who controls the mass media that thinks and makes decisions for us? For many forms of mass media, it has traditionally been large corporations and multinational conglomerates. Today a new era of mass media has begun with the individual in a lot more control of influencing others' opinions locally or internationally via mass media.