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Earlier in the week I was posed the question:

Does the use of media agenda setting mean that the world we live in is somewhat virtually constructed?

I brushed the question off suggesting that as we live in a western society we have sufficient media diversity. A few days go by and I start to notice that the same stories are appearing on my Facebook newsfeed, local and international news sources, in the print media, on television, and on the radio.

Is it possible that although we have some media diversity, it isn’t as wide spread as initially thought?

Immediately I remembered an article I read in my very first year of University that shocked and bothered me at the time and in many ways, still does. McChesney (2001) noted that “a whopping three-quarters of global spending on advertising ends up in the pockets of a mere twenty media companies”. On top of that, I came across a Yahoo research paper earlier this month (although published in 2011) that suggested that 20,000 Twitter users produce more than 50 per cent of influential Tweets.

As well as having our agenda set my specific media companies, it seems that we are, as consumers, beginning to set our own agendas. Web analytics means that we are now shown news stories that are similar to those that we (or our friends) have previously viewed, or that we would be interested in based on our other web behaviour. In order to prove how difficult it is to avoid being targeted by these web analytics, Janet Vertesi tried to hide her pregnancy from the Internet. Her efforts had to be so extreme, that they led to her being investigated for criminal acts (read more here). Although these webanalytics may be helpful when shopping online (for both consumer and marketer), they tend to make the Internet a smaller, closed off space filled with the same ideas (homogenous network).

But the media and Internet are not only controlling what we should think about, but how we should think about it.

The viral video “I am Ukrainian” has influenced the way that tens of thousands of people view the current political situation in the Ukraine. The video (which has been viewed more than 7 million times) has been criticized for being a Kony 2012-style scam that utilizes marketing techniques to push the agenda of a single party. The video message simplifies the complicated situation in the Ukraine, suggesting that it is an organic revolution that is solely fighting for freedom and democracy.

Arguably subtler than the Kony 2012-style viral video campaigns, the media purposefully frames everyday issues in particular ways to give them more weight and/or to influence the way in which we think about these issues. Last year I conducted an informal investigative study (not for publication) that looked at the way in which mental illness was represented in Australian print media. More specifically, comparing media reporting with prevalence data of gender representation of mental illness in the media. The study (although unofficial) showed that the media tended to over report a number of mental illnesses and suggest that a disease was more of a male/female disease than the prevalence data suggested. Other studies in the area have suggested that the media attach a stigma to these diseases that affects the way in which people think about and treat people with the disease.

Although agenda setting is a recognized part of media reporting, I feel that media diversity is often relied upon too heavily in Western culture. Perhaps the world we live in is more constructed/virtual than we would like to be. The question then becomes:

If the world we live in is somewhat virtual what does that mean and what can we do about it?