Evolution of Public Opinion and Media Influence

Evolution of Public Opinion

Public opinion has been present since Ancient Greece until today. During Ancient Greece, public opinion was tied to interpersonal networks, where people gathered for entertainment and to debate in order to reach a consensus. It was deeply rooted in the values and day-to-day life of a community.
During the 15th century, the printing machine was invented, changing the notion of public. It tied people together across the world, made possible the diffusion of ideas, and helped develop the notions of public thoughts and national identity.
During the 18th century (Enlightenment), people gathered in coffeehouses, salons, reading societies, and literacy clubs to express their opinions. This led to riots and strikes, culminating in the French Revolution. Jacques Necker used for the first time the expression of public opinion to describe the talk of the salons.
With the implementation of male suffrage in the 19th century, the classical assembly of the people changed into a mass-mediated body constituted by newspapers that brought people together. Public opinion was considered as an aggregation of the preferences of individuals, and it was the time when polling was born.
In the 20th century, the radio and TV were created, connecting societies through communication. However, the creation of TV in the 1950s separated people, as everyone was inside their houses watching TV. Networks became powerful and influential, and politicians started to use them to shape public opinion.
Finally, in the 21st century, the internet was created, changing public opinion back to a conversational mode. Nowadays, public opinion can be measured and defined through different ways of communication, combining interpersonal, group, and mass communication.

Hypodermic Needle Theory (Magic Bullet Theory)

The origin of this theory can be found in the work Propaganda Technique in the World War, written by Harold Lasswell in 1927. This theory is a model of communication that suggests that mass media has a direct, immediate, and powerful effect on its audience. It defends the idea that mass media can influence a large group of people directly and uniformly with appropriate messages that seek to trigger a specific response.

Multistep model

This model directs the theoretical and empirical effort to network positions other than centrally located individuals. It introduced the idea of horizontal flow that extends our attention to other segments of the interpersonal network. This influence can be multi-directional, meaning that opinion leaders can influence as the same time as they can be influenced. In this model, “marginals” are used as “importers” of new information.

Direct and indirect influence

The direct influence of the media on public opinion can be measured with the learning theory and the cognitive theory. The learning theory says that opinion is a matter of the correct way of learning information. Within this theory, we can find the agenda-setting theory, a theory developed by Walter Lippman in 1922 in his work Public Opinion, where he argues that mass media is the principal connection between the events in the world and the images in the minds of the public.
In the indirect influence, we can find different frameworks such as the ‘false consensus’, ‘looking glass perception’, ‘pluralistic ignorance’, and the Spiral of Silence, developed by Elisabeth Noella-Neumann.

Role of advertising

Advertising is a series of appeals, symbols, and statements deliberately designed to influence the receiver of the message towards the point of view desired. Advertising is the primary way of stimulating the sale of the products in our consumer-oriented society and, as such, has a direct influence on the economy. Finally, advertising is also used as the financial base for our mass communication network, for the structure of our commercialized media system depends completely on the revenues from advertising.

Online advertising

The advantages of online advertising are the behavioral marketing, immediacy, lack of geographic limitations, and interactive capability, allowing the convergence of the seller’s products and the buyer’s interests.

Audience commodification

The concept of audience commodity originates from the political economy of communication, showing that media industries are based on the transformation of audiences into commodities that can be sold on to advertisers. Some researchers argue that new technologies increase the power of media giants and businesses to commodify audiences and to sell them to advertisers. However, some researchers oppose the negative sense of audience commodification by introducing “audience empowerment” and argue that digital technology can also enable users in dealing with the surrounding environment.