Last year when I tried to take “Introduction à l’étude des médias” (CMN1560) online, I was left feeling uninspired and uninterested, ultimately dropping the course. Luckily for me, my second attempt has been amazing thanks to interesting and relevant material, an engaging professor (shout-out to M. Lévy!), and a revolutionary teaching style using social media such as Twitter and Facebook. I am so genuinely excited about what I have learned and how I was able to express it that I even made my friends read my midterm assignments and have supplemented some of the material we learned with my own research!
The main thing that I’ve learned from Professor Lévy is that each major change in communication media has brought (and continues to bring) new potential and new challenges which pervade all areas of society. For me, our discussion about 20th century propaganda coupled with the classes about the algorithmic medium have most inspired me to change my way of thinking about the world we live in today.
An Introduction to Propaganda
The first image that enters my mind when I think of propaganda is an Uncle Sam, pointing and telling passer-bys “I Want You!”, but propaganda has a much longer history than 20th century wartime. For example, before writing was even invented, messages could be propagated through society via social institutions such as the theatre and the church.
In 1450, the printing press was invented; finally there was a way to disseminate written material in a more efficient way to a large population. Following this development, the telephone (1870), the cinema (1900), the radio (1920), and the television (1900) were all invented, each a new channel for propaganda to be spread first across the country, and then around the world. These methods of propaganda were quite effective, especially since the powers that controlled them and dictated their content were very centralised.
The true beginning of systematic propaganda by the press was seen in WWI, but war propaganda was further and more famously used during WWII (1939-1945, examples below). Mussolini had his speeches played through radios on street corners, forcing his ideologies on his citizens. Hitler used Mussolini’s technique of propaganda to share his ideas, helping helped him to gain power in Germany. Other countries, such as the US used similar techniques, and short films (such as the one made by Disney featured below) were created to criticise the opposition.
These examples demonstrate that constant exposure to a streamlined ideology whilst restricting freedom of expression has been used time and time again to create brainwashed societies, and that this it is very effective way to control a population.
Propaganda and the Algorithmic Medium
In more recent years, classic media has slowly begun to become obsolete and rather irrelevant to the masses at large. In its place is a new media superpower: the algorithmic medium. An example of the relevancy of this statement is Donald Trump’s recent victory, making him the U.S.A.’s president-elect. Throughout the election, the majority of classic media was against his presidency, and it was predicted that he would lose. Still, he won.
The above image is no longer completely accurate; whereas traditional media such as newspapers and news stations are largely controlled by political groups and corporations, the Internet is a free-for-all! Anyone can publish content on the web, and infinite opinions on an infinite number of topics are easily accessible through search engines such as Google.
It’s the end of media that tells us what to think! It’s us, our networks & the content we choose to engage w/that shapes our thinking! #uoim
— Morgan Oda (@_morganliane) December 6, 2016
Of course, propaganda exists everywhere on the Internet, and it is able to reach people more instantaneously than ever before. At its core, propaganda is simply the creation and dissemination of a message in an attempt to convince an audience of something. Although we tend to associate it with negative or extreme concepts, such as Hitler’s Germany, propaganda is not found in these unique instances. Below are some “positive” or “every day” forms of propaganda.
Importantly, M. Levy pointed out that freedom of expression was previously uniquely theoretical, but is now a practical concept for those who have access to the Internet (a predicted 99% of the world by 2035). Plainly stated, the algorithmic medium provides a means to speak up in support of our beliefs.
Tout le monde est potentiellement un acteur ou un contributeur sur l’internet. Ceci permet la liberté d’expression. #UOIM
— Sarah✨ (@saarahmackenzie) November 22, 2016
My perception freedom of speech has been forever altered by this course.
Weirdly enough, one of my classmates spawned a controversy via Twitter and Facebook by deliberately posting instigating messages in order to see my classmates’ responses and discuss them in his own final blog post.
He did not post anything insulting or degrading – and definitely nothing hateful – but he received many attempts to silence him. One person went so far as to post on our class Facebook group, pleading with the T.A. and our professor to make him stop – something that she had every right to do, even if Eric’s actions were only slightly irritating at worst, because of freedom of speech. As unimportant as this incident may seem, for me it highlighted the importance of freedom of expression: speech should not be censored. What is offensive for one is not always offensive for all, and individuals should not be allowed to silence someone for voicing a controversial opinion or for acting in a way that is outside of the accepted norm. Just as technology cannot advance without accepting innovation, society and humankind cannot advance by permitting people to voice their opinions only when it suits the current ideology.
Interested in pursuing this topic further, I spoke with one of my friends via Facebook (another example of learning through social media) and he had the following to say:
Recently, there has been a movement within the educational community and otherwise regarding what many have called “PC (politically correct) culture” and its adverse effects on freedom of speech and, ultimately, learning and progressing. While I’m more than happy to do what I can to make people feel as comfortable as possible, I believe there should always be a place for logical debate and that all opinions (given that they are not directly harming another) have the right be freely expressed under appropriate circumstances.
The Internet provides an incredible forum for expression, learning, and engagement. For the first time in human history, we truly have the ability to enact freedom of expression. However, the Internet also exposes us to a vast variety of opinions, some of which we may find offensive or hurtful. In my opinion, we should not try to diminish and insult their authors, but ignore them or engage in a meaningful discussion. This is how we can truly make the most of this brand new communication medium.