The Media and Us – How to influence public opinion (by Mag. Barbara Grabner)

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann developed the Spiral of Silence theory: People almost instinctively sense the opinions of those around them, and shape their behavior to the prevailing attitude about what is acceptable and what is not. People are more willing to publicly express their opinions when they perceive their view to be the dominant one, or that it is on the rise.

People are afraid of becoming socially isolated and thus try to avoid such situations as demonstrated by psychologist Solomon Asch in his Conformity experiments. People feel more comfortable by agreeing with opinions that they know are wrong instead of telling others their viewpoint!

But the reluctance to express our opinions openly has great impact on any development in society.

The media effects our perception of the majority opinion. An opinion which is not published appears to be “non-existent”. Reasons and facts gained from the media offer “ammunition” for campaigners as well as spectators to express their views. Elections are much influenced by the partisanship of the journalists. They influence us by selecting the news – gate keepers – and topics – agenda
setting.

The media defines our perception what is right or wrong and influences our willingness to speak about controversial issues. An opinion which is favored by the journalists appears stronger than in reality it is! The result is a spiral process which prompts readers/listeners/viewers to follow suit, until the journalists´ opinion is established as the prevailing attitude and becomes the norm.

People understand events, circumstances and world affairs mainly by using symbols and pictures which are produced by media reports.

These pictures in our heads derive from the media using stereotypes as means to make complicated matters more simple and generally understandable but often result in the formation of prejudices.

Change comes from the „hard core“ People who do not fear social isolation, are likely to speak out regardless of public opinion. Heroes,heretics, artists, pioneers and scientists are almost immune to the critic of their contemporaries or do not care much about public opinion. They proclaim their viewpoint loudly because they are convinced that they are ahead of their time.

Capture the speaker´s podium! When we decide to express our opinion in public independent of the majority opinion we can transform the society around us. If we face rejection we should not hide ourselves away. Speak confidently, display symbols, put on stickers, make signature campaigns, put posters in your windows, talk to your neighbors, visit events of your “foes” and raise your voice there. Become thick-skinned advertisers of your cause!

Mag. Barbara Grabner
WFWP conference, Bratislava 2016

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