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The Influence of The Development of New Media on British Politics

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One can define ‘new media’ as any content which is easily accessible via a multitude of digital platforms and media, on the contrary old media can be grouped into what we can call the traditional forms; Newspapers, Radio, Television and Magazines etc. Of course, in the 21st century there is a degree of overlap where old media can be accessed in a variety of ways both analogue and digital. For instance, print media can be accessed in the form of PDF downloads, Television and Radio through a variety of streaming devices, the Internet and, apps such as Now TV, iPlayer and TuneIn. However, for the analysis of the influence of new media on British Politics one must see the distinction where the traditional forms whilst commonly can now be accessed using the internet as mentioned above, they previously existed in manifestation whereby reception of content was via analogue radio wave to either a radio of television or by physical print media such as newspapers and magazines. On the other hand, we can distinguish new media as being only available first and foremost digitally and accessed either by the internet, mobile application, streaming etc. It can be argued, that it is the lack of ethics and standards which can make new media problematic. For example, a phrase we see all so often branded around nowadays is “fake news”.

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Deliberate misinformation or propaganda is not new and nor is traditional media free of it. However, with the growth of new media and in particular social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter it can be argued that ‘fake news’ has been amplified and has snowballed as a result. Coleman et al highlights the environment of new media does not convey a respect for information with others able manipulate published content in any way they see fit with limited consequences. Such actions can represent the way in which new media can be used to make politics more accessible as Coleman et al discuss in regard to the modification of Hansard parliamentary proceedings reports. But also shows how content can be manipulated to negative effects. For instance, many political groups and schisms, particularly on the right have used images and quotes out of context or to make false claims to further their view and distort public perceptions and potentially incite racial divisions. As such the lack of stringent fact checking, or citations of social media content have allowed content creators to publish information into the public domain and if it is shared a few thousand times, regardless of its credibility, can be taken at face value for the truth. This shows clearly how new media can have a horrifically negative influence on British politics particularly in regard to informing public opinion. With the fallout of the 2016 EU Membership referendum, it was discovered that Bots on Facebook and Twitter has potentially been used by Russian entities to spread false information in an attempt to influence the result and undermine the British political milieu.

Essentially, the development of new media combined with the new “post-truth” political era has contributed to the growth of populism within the UK and the West as a whole. One such example of this is the use of Facebook groups by extreme Right-wing and Alt-Right groups such as the Britain First and Football Lads Alliance. The nature by which populism appeals to people’s emotions at the expense of rebuttals and factual verification can be linked to the convenience of social media and how actors’ trust of news is more often based off of ‘modernist’ trust cues whereby reliability is judged mostly on “presentation, number of shares, number of similar articles, and alignment with pre-existing knowledge”. It is far more convenient and easy to appeal to the emotions of people or to judge credibility of knowledge based off of how many other people ‘share’ content than it is to partake in lengthy debate or fact checking exercises. As a result, the consistent and vociferous production of visceral content on social media becomes the main source of news for many people.

On the other hand, a positive of the emergence of new media, whereby new means of dissemination of information on a large scale has created the option to bypass existing traditional media structures and institutions, undermining their monopoly on information in the public consciousness. With Politicians engorged in knowledge wars, fighting for control of the narrative in a process many call ‘spin’. Coleman et al recognise that control of the agenda and commentary of it is no longer a duopoly or an exclusive club, and it can be argued that the reduced influence of those with power in controlling the news cycle can result in more partial content; which does not seek to deflect or mislead the public to protect or further political causes. This is the result of audience fragmentation due channel multiplication, and also through a healthy selection of independent online blogs, commentaries, news sources and even video content from the likes of Vice. Social media has also played a huge part in providing a platform for freelance journalists, commentators, and even comedians. However, the creation of a fragmented audience as a result of increased choice has had a negative impact on British politics also. People can now choose what specific content they wish to receive I.e. Sport enthusiasts may only watch sport channels, or people can do away with TV completely and as many do, receive all their digital media content from streaming sites such as Netflix. Ultimately this demonstrates an unconscious self-exclusion from sources which can provide important informative and analytical news pieces which can heighten one’s political awareness and enable one to be more informed.

This isolation from current events and politics via increased choice no doubt represents a worrying example of how new media can have a negative influence in British Politics. As the growth of a more uninformed electorate can no help aid in the election of demagogues and populists who play off emotion rather than intrinsic fact which can only be found when one is an active consumer of “socially cross-cutting exchanges of experience, knowledge, and comment.” However, it can be argued that a lack or exposure to such knowledge and comment via television does not necessarily mean people are more likely to be uninformed. Whilst audience fragmentation may mean less people receive a rich diet of accurate and critical political information by way of a TV, this does not mean they are unable to receive news online, from news apps etc. This demonstrates how new media can have a positive influence on British politics by filling the gap of informative news content left by channel multiplication. Moreover, as Coleman et al identify, new media has had significant “sociocultural” benefits, for instance those who may previously have been unable to actively engage in the political process within the operative paradigm of the traditional media environment now have an opportunity to participate as a result of evolved networking capabilities and increased virtual social interconnectedness. A house bound person who may previously have been unable to go to the shops to purchase a newspaper can receive the same newspaper in a digital format on a tablet, mobile or computer. On the same device, they can go on social media sites and view analyses from verified journalists and commentators or visit a different news sight and receive a different perspective on the same story.

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In short, new media has made it much easier for the average person regardless of individual circumstances to receive a varied and rich selection of news and info from a plethora of sources at the touch of a finger. Thus, being an active citizen is now much easier and less time consuming thanks to the emergence of new media. We have seen how the development of new media has arguably perpetuated fake news but it can also be argued that it has resulted in the increase of sensationalisation within the domain of traditional media, for instance Coleman et al argue “producers of political content are under intense pressure to compete for the attention of the fragmented audience.” Thus, this may lead them to overexaggerate events or sensationalise them in order to drawn in more viewers. The development of new media has built on the audience fragmentation with the expansion of channel choice described by Coleman et al with the provision of swathes of online sources of political news and discourse.

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