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The Carletonian

Media and Elections: The issue of information overload

There’s so much to say about the media and politics and all that, so I’ll be vague. The role of the media in today’s civil society is to give people information. People then use that information to make good decisions about how the world should be run. The hope is an informed electorate. A lot of people have been saying recently that the problem we are facing right now is an uninformed one, but I beg to differ: I think we have an overinformed electorate.

In this world we have over 7 billion people, 600 million cats, and 900 million dogs, which means we have more information than we can ever hope to process. Most of them have credit scores, birthdays, ideas, or cute videos of them wearing people clothes. So now comes the hard part, deciding what information they’re going to receive. The nice part of this for them is that they don’t really have to think about it.

Unless they’ve become completely numb to everything, which at this point is more than understandable, everyone has an immediate emotional reaction to nearly everything that they learn.

This is called affect. It shows when they want to learn more about something they like, when they hate-click a Vice article, or when they get mad at polls that show their candidate isn’t doing as well as they hoped. The nice part about this is that they don’t have to think about it. This is why we trend toward things we like, watching videos we agree with, reading screenshots of tweets from politicians we like, or commenting on videos of said politicians with dogs.

Aside from mostly true conspiracy theories about social media algorithms and their deciding what to show them, they do trend towards things that they like. Why would anyone watch Fox News or read Jacobin Magazine unless they want to see that stuff; they know what they’re consuming.

A few years ago, people had time to watch TV, so stations could afford to spend time on issues, and show both sides of a debate. Now they don’t. People are getting busier, working more jobs, spreading time between multiple apps. I’ll also venture to say that even if they did have more time they wouldn’t want to see both sides, and even if they did, they’d probably be shown a strawman argument for the other side. People like thinking that people who disagree with them are dumb. Another big crunch on time is the time spent on advertising.

Now that so much content is available for free, people don’t like to pay for stuff. I would much rather skip over a 30 second advertisement for RAID: Shadow Legends than pay actual money for premium Chapo Trap House episodes. Most content creators are aware of this and have capitalized on it. Mobile games, videos, news sites, and even porn sites all fully take advantage of this by choosing to run ads instead of charging for content.

It’s also a question of how many media people our economy can support. A population of 5,000 can probably financially support four or five media creators, a population of 500,000 can support 400 to 500, and we can keep scaling up. These numbers are purely hypothetical, but let’s go back to that first part, of 5000 people being able to support four or five media creators. Thanks to the internet, it’s not that hard to create and distribute media; the overhead cost is as low as a camera and computer. In the olden days of the ’90s, the fact that more people could afford to spend their lives creating media meant that people would join up with established networks and radio stations.

The Internet now allows for such gems as Red Scare and Nick Fuentes to rise in popularity despite having relatively extreme ideologies that limit their viewership to .01 percent of the population, but which now is much more than enough to support them.

Take all this with a grain of salt, I’m an Economics major who isn’t a fan of political science. I wrote this under a slight time crunch and got most of my ideas from my lazy reading of Baudrillard. There will always be people who just don’t watch anything, and people who do due diligence on issues.

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