Apparently not all is perfect in this new media garden. Facebook does not turn us all into enlightened seekers after truth, Instead, it allows us to reinforce our own prejudices:
Facebook reinforces the beliefs of users because they tend to seek out news and views that tally with their own opinions, according to a new study. The social networking site creates an "echo chamber" in which a network of like-minded people share controversial theories, biased views and selective news, academics found. This means that any bias held is simply repeated back to them unchallenged and accepted as fact.
Quite amazing, eh?
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed Facebook data about the topics people discussed on the social network in 2010 and 2014. It concluded: "Users tend to aggregate in communities of interest, which causes reinforcement and fosters confirmation bias, segregation and polarisation.
"This comes at the expense of the quality of information and leads to proliferation of biased narratives fomented by unsubstantiated rumours, mistrust, and paranoia."
Sounds just like the opinion pages of The Guardian. Or the comments section of the Daily Mail. The reason being that it is exactly like those two things. Because one of the lesser known but hugely important things we know about the media is that it does not shape our views so much as chase our pre-existing ones. Editors do not say "We must convince the readers that coffee cures cancer", they instead ask whether they want to advertise things to those who might be interested in reading an article about whether coffee does indeed cure cancer.
Similarly, amazing though it may seem, there are groups in this country interested in reading Owen Jones' misunderstandings of economics, Polly's insistence that the only way is Labour, the strange neuroses that drive Mail columnists and so on down (or up, as you wish) the list.
The importance of this in the wider sense is that calls for "unbiased" media simply don't make sense. Because it presupposes that the creators are trying to create a bias that benefits them, the creators. Not in the slightest: creators are angling to identify an extant view in the population that they can then pander to.
You knew this quote was coming, didn't you?
Sir Humphrey: The only way to understand the Press is to remember that they pander to their readers' prejudices.
Jim Hacker: Don't tell me about the Press. I know *exactly* who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by people who think they *ought* to run the country. The Times is read by the people who actually *do* run the country. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by people who *own* the country. The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by *another* country. The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who think it is.
Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don't care *who* runs the country - as long as she's got big tits.
Pander might even be too weak: chase the prejudices might be more accurate.
Sure there's media bias: but it's not bias emanating from the media, it's the population being reflected in it.
Which does rather lead to an interesting point we can make. The general complaint about media bias is that the free market media has a right wing bias. Something which, if true, says that England at least is a rather right wing place. Because if the largest market in the country weren't rather right wing then that wouldn't be the bias the media had.