Misguided Media Messages

In our previous lecture we discussed positive media, news fatigue, and the way that news affects our mental health. This was all very interesting, but it reminded me of a TEDtalk I watched in my introductory research class about Hans and Ola Rosling. The father-son duo have developed an amazing website (https://www.gapminder.org/) dedicated to informing people about world statistics. Their goal is to give populations a more educated worldview, since when they asked populations a few basic questions, almost every group they asked (a set of Swedish people, Americans, and the Media) failed miserably — the only group scoring above 30% was a group of chimps.

Results of an informal poll at 2 media conferences.

The fact that the media didn’t know the answer to so many of the questions makes it rather disturbing that this is who the public is getting their worldview from. With the amount of negative news being played, as said in the Mele article, the fact that “breaking news” has become “this thing that’s happening now”, and the ability to access news 24/7 from a large number of outlets, it’s no wonder we’ve developed a worldview that everything is getting worse.

Some of the questions asked were “how has deaths per year from natural disasters changed in the last century?”, “in the last 20 years the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has . . . ?”, and “how many years have women aged 30 spent in school (men of the same age spent 8)?”. For the first question, most people assumed the number of deaths have doubled, when in reality they have decreased by more than half. For the second question people again assumed doubled, when in actuality it has almost halved. And for the third question, the majority of people guessed 3 years, when actually women spent an average of 7 years in school compared to men’s 8.

This negative worldview, the ingrained idea that the world is getting worse by the second and inequality is at an all time high, all comes from this media overload. If the media only reports on what is wrong with the world (as it tends to do, because the mass population seems to be drawn to the “bad”) then our worldview becomes extremely skewed. The media doesn’t present a realistic picture of the world, it only shows what is “news worthy”, and when all we see is negative, and we see it constantly throughout the day, we’re severely damaging ourselves.

The TEDtalk left one point that I think everyone could hear, when asked a question about the world, assumed that things always get better, because it’s rare that they don’t. The news makes us think the world is a terrible and dangerous place, but really, it’s so much better than it once was, and we need to know that.

Lydia Fleming






2 thoughts on “Misguided Media Messages

  1. Great read! Also, thank you for sharing the link to gapminder.org. I hadn’t known about this initiative or TED talk until now. In an age where news can be extremely depressing, I’m extremely happy that this website exists!


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