The Media Polarisation Model

When the “middle ground” is far from the actual centre.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

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The Media Polarisation Model explains a media bias.

The news media tends to divide issues into two oppos­ing camps. This kind of polar­isa­tion is a known media logic effect.

However, when oppos­ing view­points are both extremes, the view­points might actu­ally be closer to each oth­er than to the true centre of the issue.

What hap­pens when extreme pos­i­tions (that are non-per­pen­dic­u­lar) become less inter­ested in hon­est dis­cource based on fac­tu­al evidence?

Here we go:

The Media Polarisation Model

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The Media Polarisation Model

We often hear how the media cli­mate is “polar­ised” — a known and reas­on­ably well-under­stood effect of clas­sic media logic.

It also seems true that social media logic has amp­li­fied the effects of polar­isa­tion by group­ing people into echo cham­bers where con­firm­a­tion bias, con­ver­sion the­ory, and the hos­tile media effect are allowed to roam freely without any checks and balances.

Political elites, par­tis­an media, and social media con­trib­ute to soci­et­al-level polit­ic­al polar­iz­a­tion, lead­ing to mis­per­cep­tions of divi­sion among the elect­or­ate and fuel­ing anim­os­ity and actu­al ideo­lo­gic­al polar­iz­a­tion over time.”
Source: Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 1Wilson, A., Parker, V., & Feinberg, M. (2020). Polarization in the con­tem­por­ary polit­ic­al and media land­scape. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 34, 223 – 228. … Continue read­ing

More deeply, media polar­isa­tion is prob­lem­at­ic because it draws false lines between extremes that aren’t neces­sar­ily per­pen­dic­u­lar. These “false lines” will force oth­er­wise bal­anced media con­sumers to place them­selves between the media-sug­ges­ted extremes.

The Media Polarisation Model - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog - Version 1
The Media Polarisation Model (Version 1). Both extreme pos­i­tions are at the max­im­um dis­tance from the centre of the issue, but that doesn’t mean that the media por­tray­al of “oppos­ing extremes” are per­pen­dic­u­lar to each oth­er. Often, extreme views can be quite sim­il­ar des­pite being described by the media as polar oppos­ites. A “middle ground” between two such extremes can be quite far from the centre of the issue, too.

At the extremes, sheltered by the social safety of a like-minded peer group (i.e. echo cham­ber), it’s pos­sible to dis­reg­ard oppos­ing evid­ence as “attacks” on their pos­i­tion. As the amp­li­fic­a­tion hypo­thes­is states, any such attacks will only strengthen the pos­i­tion of the extremes.

  • The harder you attack someone verbally, the more you con­vince them of their belief, not yours.

Through media polar­isa­tion, the amp­li­fic­a­tion hypo­thes­is sus­tains a “Post-Truth” Zone at the extremes. If a) the zone is wide enough and b) the extremes are suf­fi­ciently close to each oth­er, the forced “bal­anced” pos­i­tion between them will end up in the “Post-Truth” Zone as well.

Post-truth is a soci­et­al phe­nomen­on, influ­enced by the expect­a­tion that hon­esty is the default pos­i­tion, and the pub­lic tol­er­ance of inac­cur­ate and undefen­ded alleg­a­tions in polit­ics.”
Source: Nature 2Higgins, K. (2016). Post-truth: a guide for the per­plexed. Nature, 540, 9 – 9. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​8​/​5​4​0​0​09a

The Media Polarisation Model - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog - Version 2
The Media Polarisation Model (Version 2). Once a peer group with extreme pos­i­tions reach crit­ic­al mass, they’ll be more likely to rein­force their belief when ques­tioned ration­ally. This cre­ates a “Post-Truth” Zone the fur­thest away from the issue’s centre — where even a “bal­anced” pos­i­tion might land.

The forced “bal­anced” pos­i­tion is weak and argu­ably also extreme, there­fore cred­it­ing (not threat­en­ing) all extreme post-truth positions.

Since the forced “bal­anced” pos­i­tion will have a hard time shel­ter­ing any­one from our fear of social isol­a­tion, the spir­al of silence par­tially explains why extremes are so effect­ive in silen­cing the major­ity of oth­er­wise bal­anced media con­sumers. 3Silfwer, J. (2020, June 4). The Spiral of Silence. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​p​i​r​a​l​-​o​f​-​s​i​l​e​n​ce/

Learn more: The Media Polarisation Model

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Example: The Climate Change Issue

When dis­cuss­ing cli­mate change, one extreme pos­i­tion often por­trayed by the news media and social media algorithms is that the only viable course of action to save our plan­et from cer­tain doom is to resort to a more total­it­ari­an rule of law. Only then can we enforce the neces­sary actions.

Another extreme pos­i­tion is that the cli­mate change issue is an elab­or­ate hoax and that our only viable course of action is to resort to a more total­it­ari­an rule where dan­ger­ous revolu­tion­ar­ies can be dealt with — before they’re allowed to des­troy our soci­et­ies from within.

Both extreme pos­i­tions are flirt­ing with total­it­ari­an ideas. A straight line between them won’t include com­mon ideas like trust in the demo­crat­ic pro­cess, free speech, or humanism.

Therefore, we should all be mind­ful when allow­ing the news media and social media algorithms to dic­tate our choices regard­ing what to think, say, and do.

Read also: PR Commentary on Current Events, No Thanks

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Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: More Media Logic

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Wilson, A., Parker, V., & Feinberg, M. (2020). Polarization in the con­tem­por­ary polit­ic­al and media land­scape. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 34, 223 – 228. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​3​1​2​3​4​/​o​s​f​.​i​o​/​y​q​vzc
2 Higgins, K. (2016). Post-truth: a guide for the per­plexed. Nature, 540, 9 – 9. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​3​8​/​5​4​0​0​09a
3 Silfwer, J. (2020, June 4). The Spiral of Silence. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​p​i​r​a​l​-​o​f​-​s​i​l​e​n​ce/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

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Shareable:
The Media Polarisation Model explains how media tends to divide issues into two opposing, often extreme camps, distorting the true center of the issue.
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Extreme viewpoints in media may seem opposite but can be quite similar, leading to a "Post-Truth" Zone far from the issue's actual center.
Shareable:
In polarised media, attacking opposing views only serves to strengthen them, as per the Amplification Hypothesis.
Shareable:
The Spiral of Silence theory suggests that media polarisation silences balanced opinions, favouring extreme positions.
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Polarisation is amplified by social media, creating echo chambers where confirmation bias and the Hostile Media Effect thrive.
Shareable:
The climate change debate exemplifies media polarisation, where extreme positions often overshadow moderate, democratic solutions.
Shareable:
Media polarisation forces consumers into a false middle ground, often aligning with extreme, post-truth positions.
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The model highlights the need for critical media consumption and skepticism towards polarised media narratives.
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Understanding media polarisation is crucial for effective communication strategies in a divided media landscape.

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