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Week 5 Social Context Models

Spiral of Silence, 3rd Person, Info Diffusion Knowledge Gap

Ian Kivelin Davis

on 9 October 2018

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Transcript of Week 5 Social Context Models

Social Context Models

Learning goals:
1. Understand how the limited effects tradition spun out new models of public opinion research
2. Know the main researchers following the limited effects pioneers (like Lazarsfeld)
3. Consider how these studies have continuing relevance today
These are some unhappy findings about public opinion
People don't learn much (Robinson)
People don't express themselves when holding unpopular opinions (Spiral of Silence), undermining healthy public debate
Significant knowledge gaps exist. When "the people" do gain info, it is unevenly distributed, i.e. certain classes know; others are ignorant (Differential growth in knowledge)
People respond to other people as if other people are heavily influenced by media (3rd person)
Spiral of Silence
Why "social context" theories?
These theories develop some of the limited effect findings by outlining how mass media may have effects other than direct influence . . . effects that are embedded in broader social relationships.
Third Person Effect
Information Diffusion
Knowledge Gap
fear of social isolation outweighs desire to speak unpopular ideas
Spiral of Silence thought experiment
1. News tends to highlight extreme circumstances
2. Nazism in America draws news attention
3. News accounts of American Nazis proliferate
profiles, interviews, investigative reports
4. Possible outcome: increased attention to Nazis creates the impression Nazism is more popular among the American public than it actually is
5. Therefore, more Americans embrace Nazi ideas anticipating these ideas are in ascendance
as people perceive popularity of idea diminishing, willingness to express does too
idea "spirals" according to the perception of its popularity
ideas perceived as out of favor dwindle in P.O. more rapidly than would otherwise
Some members of the outgroup may hold onto their opinions and support their opinions by "selecting out persons and media which confirm their views" (49).
Spiral of Silence and
Modern Information Bubbles?
Comments sections of partisan news sites provide an interesting case study of "confirming" media
media effects can be a response to how people believe media is influencing others
media effect, therefore, is indirect and based in (the perception of) larger social world
1. assumption that media effect others but not us
Two key elements:
2. we then
to that perception of effects
"In addition to serving as networks of communication, interpersonal relations are also sources of pressure to conform to the group's way of thinking and acting, as well as sources of social support" (Lazarsfeld and Merton 365).
research shows media do not inform the public as well as assumed
Basic question: do media inform the public well?
correlation between being informed, edu level and "serious" media use (354)
More recent studies confirm knowledge gap but with different correlations
Iraq War and Public Knowledge (2003)
only 15% had college degrees at time of Robinson's studies
today: 32%
college grads: media do not increase knowledge much
non-grads: heavy media use increases knowledge appreciably
Class exercise: Raise your hand if you can identify the following people
Diffusion studies sought correlations for prediction:
2. correlations with medium used
3. correlations with amount of media use
i.e. print media use predicted better info levels than broadcast
1. correlations with education level
varies among group characteristics
Diffusion findings?
people already informed (edu) use media to become more so.
interpersonal discussion of media content is better predictor of gaining information
implication: online comment threads
people pay attention to that which they find useful
Spiral strengths
has macro and micro-level explanation of power
accounts for shifts at macro lvl (public opinion)
raises good questions about role of news
Spiral weaknesses
overly pessimistic view of media and people
ignores other, simpler explanations of silence
ignores cultural differences as explanations for silence
discounts power of community to counter silencing effect
News quiz (shamelessly stolen)
mass media + social environment research
Does media inform you?
1. A writer for a popular tv show recently revealed who were actually gay characters?
Bert and Ernie
2. Who is this public figure?
Andrew McCabe Deputy Director of the FBI
3. Which Constitutional Amendment has come up in the context of removing President Trump from office?
4. Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that the U.S. would limit what to 30,000 next year?
5. Tech billionaire, Marc Benioff, recently announced buying which magazine?
a. Wired
b. Time
d. Spiral of Silence Magazine
c. Us Weekly
b. Time
1960s researchers tested public knowledge of science and public affairs news
growth of knowledge found to be relatively greater among higher status groups (college edu, age, gender correlations)
hypothesis: educated have "trained capacity" for info uptake. How?
1. communication skills
2. stored information
3. social contacts
4. selective exposure, acceptance, and retention
5. medium used: print vs. tv
method: newspaper strike provided population deprived of news; knowledge gap should diminish
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