The press and extremist bubbles

Does the press have any participation in the multiplication of ultraconservative groups? Most journalists will say no, but if we went into detail, for example, how Brazilian truck drivers mobilized to block roads, we would see that information played a very important role in the protests.

Foto Wikipedia /CC

As information is the raw material of the press and journalism, both have become part of the problem, although social networks are primarily responsible for the information inputs responsible for the formation of ultraconservative groups, the so-called extreme right bubbles, such as those that organized protests in front of military barracks calling for a coup d’état in the country.

Despite being part of the same problem, there is a qualitative and quantitative difference in the participation of both journalism and the press as well as social networks in the way both parties handle the data, facts and events made available to the public. It is already known that information leads people with similar worldviews to join groups and that they tend to become radicalized as they reject ideas and behaviors that are different from their own. (1)

Journalism plays a fundamental qualitative role in the flow of information responsible for the formation of extremist bubbles, because the press serves as an echo chamber for what is published on social networks. The press no longer has a monopoly on the mass dissemination of hard news, but it has, nevertheless, a powerful influence on the environment in which information, both true and false, will be disseminated by companies such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, for example.

Qualified information is the main tool to reduce social, political and economic tensions. Research cited by professors Serge Moscovici and Marisa Zavalloni, from the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, in Paris, state that polarization can be stopped or discouraged when the exchange of data, facts and information between people takes place in an environment with a low level of social, political and economic tensions. According to the two authors, in this type of environment, moderate opinions tend to prevail over extremist ones, while in a climate of tension, more radical opinions generally prevail.

A new journalistic agenda

To achieve this goal, it’s much more important to publish news and information in order to stimulate people’s reflection than to follow the traditional routine in journalism of publishing striking and impactful news capable of valuing paid advertising spaces. The concern to immunize readers, listeners, viewers and Internet users against polarization and extremism leads, therefore, to the need to invert the news agenda of the press.

It is about establishing new priorities when it comes to producing news, such as the ones that stimulate reflection among readers, listeners and viewers on the causes and consequences of the polarizing process underway in society. Currently, the press prioritizes parliamentary, corporate and military issues as if it were a direct protagonist in the game for political and economic power. Stimulating reflection implies contextualizing each piece of information, specifically locating its causes and consequences to allow the public to have a broader and more diversified view of the issues published by the press.

Changing news patterns is a concrete and immediate need because, according to research published on the website of the School of Business at Stanford University, in the United States, polarization and extremism favor the creation of social environments that stimulate social and interpersonal violence while at the same time disorganizing production systems, as evidenced by roadblocks promoted recently by bubbles created by Brazilian truck drivers and cargo transport company owners.

(1) More details in the book Going to Extremes, by Cass Sunstein (Oxford University Press, 2009)

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Carlos Castilho

Jornalista, pesquisador em jornalismo comunitário e professor. Brazilian journalist, post doctoral researcher, teacher and media critic