Perceptions of Social Justice Movements and the Media

By Anahita Kodali

Graphic by Sabrina Eager



On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46 year old Black man living in Minneapolis bought a pack of cigarettes from Cup Foods. A store employee who believed that his $20 bill was counterfeit called the police on Mr. Floyd. About 20 minutes later, officers arrived and began speaking to Mr. Floyd. At some point in the altercation, Officer Derek Chauvin pulled Mr. Floyd from his car and pinned him down to the ground by bracing his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck for 7 minutes and 46 seconds. Mr. Floyd told Officer Chauvin that he could not breathe over 20 times and went unresponsive at the 6 minute mark. He was taken to the hospital and about an hour later, Mr. Floyd was pronounced dead (“George Floyd”). His death, along with the other hundreds of murders of Black Americans caused by police brutality, renewed a massive Black Lives Matter movement across the United States.


Black Lives Matter is not the only current social issue. Americans are also dealing with the disproportionate impacts of coronavirus, voting suppression, debates about immigration policy, and a myriad of other problems. As the political landscape is constantly shifting, it has become increasingly important to consider how the general public’s views about these issues shifts too. Integral to public perception of social issues is the consumption of popular media. The most popular news sources include CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and the New York Times (Mitchell).


The news contains a large amount of political bias. Of course, certain outlets strongly lean left or right, with CNN traditionally being considered a liberal source and Fox News leaning conservative. Additionally, several outlets attempt to be centrist in an attempt to cater to many viewers, which reduces thought-provoking discussion that could occur if outlets allowed themselves to debate more radical ideas. Perhaps more significant is the bias towards the “new” — news sources often sensationalize trivial news rather than reporting on the more mundane but more important issues (Leonhardt). That bias exists in social media as well, though it is more difficult to understand the overall political leanings as no one person’s feed is the same as another's. Overall, social media has been found to reflect the political leanings of the people that one follows (for example, if most of your friends were liberal, your social media is more likely to lean left, and vice versa for conservatives) (Baker).


As we traverse an increasingly complex and polarized political landscape, it has become more important than ever to keep these biases in mind as we consume political media. The centrist and sensational focuses of traditional news sources put an emphasis on violence and political badmouthing. For example, reporting on social justice movements like the ongoing Black Lives Matter often ignores the nuances of different protests and instead focuses on rioting. This violence certainly has it a valid and significant place in these protests; however, by making the decision to only report instances of looting and choosing to ignore the thousands of peaceful protestors, the news paints the protests in a negative light, especially for those viewers who were already biased against the movement. For avid consumers of social media (like myself), it is critical to consider the views of your friends and the influencers that you follow. If your feed is full of the same story over and over, take a moment to Google the issues discussed and inform yourself.


The digital landscape is full of misinformation, and it is impossible to avoid biased media. By keeping the biases in mind and working to inform yourself, you will be able to parse through misinformation and come to your own conclusions about the issues around you.






Sources


Baker, Alex. “Your Social Media Feed Is Biased - USC Viterbi: School of

Engineering.” USC Viterbi | School of Engineering, 15 Apr. 2020, viterbischool.usc.edu/news/2020/04/your-social-media-feed-is-biased/.


“George Floyd: What Happened in the Final Moments of His Life.” BBC News, BBC, 16

July 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52861726.


Leonhardt, David. “The Six Forms of Media Bias.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Jan. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/01/31/opinion/media-bias-howard-schultz.html.


Mitchell, Amy, and Tom Rosentiel. “The Top 25.” Pew Research Center's Journalism Project, 31 Dec. 2019, www.journalism.org/2011/05/09/top-25/.