The excessive brevity of news cycles of media today combined with commercial pressure by corporations has led some to bemoan a “disturbing” lack of morality in news coverage. When it comes to discussing moral values, the discourse has been reduced to brief conversations focused on hot topics. The media fail to adequately cover morally charged issues, such as the minimum wage, social security, health care, etc.
The advent of “soundbites”
TV news tends to limit complex stories to 30 second – 1-minute segments. Soundbites exist now where complex arguments did before. Media coverage is adapted to commercials, not vice versa. Advertisers are given ample leeway to optimize their product placement in this generous environment. Insightful stories that draw attention to moral conflict are not desirable to companies because they distract from the commercials.
In fact, it’s often the case that news highlights stories utterly lacking in substantive content. These reports might attract audiences’ interest, but they do not inform them. They neither stimulate public discourse nor cover pressing matters. They do strike an emotional chord, though. They are presented in brief, dramatic segments so as not to afflict audiences excessively.
Oversimplifying morally relevant stories
Morally relevant stories are buried in sensationalism, disregarding the fact that many people still hold and nurture traditional values like justice and integrity. In Australia, many people care about health care deeply, and the media need to address certain core issues and challenges.
Demographic issues and technology costs
Rising health care service costs and tightening budgets may compromise the ability of the health sector to cater to an aging population. While technological innovation has improved patients’ lives in terms of diagnosing and coping with serious illnesses, the rising costs and diffusion of technology will result in significant financial limitations.
Medical and health care technology increases the burden on state budgets. It will become even more difficult to maintain health and well-being, much less improve it.
The neglected moral dimension of healthcare
Most media don’t reflect people’s values. This is the case for a number of reasons – from lack of initiative to giving commercial interests top priority. Media reports fail to cover pressing issues. Commercial news is superficial in essence, skewing audiences’ grasp of the moral consequences of political action or inaction.
Journalists need to spend more time on the debate on socially relevant issues. News stories should be linked to the ethical and moral realities of people’s lives through insightful, ongoing coverage of the substantive problems that impact them.
Inequality and equity issues
One cannot deny that the improvements in Australian health outcomes have been dramatic. Some population groups demonstrate lower mortality rates, increased life expectancy, and more effective disease management control. The key word is “some.” Indigenous populations’ life expectancy is much lower than that of the non-indigenous (70 vs. 84 years of age on average). As expected, medical care quality varies with patient income.
Values and social media
No exploration of the media’s impact on moral values could eschew the role of social media in particular. People of all ages constantly use Meta, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and other media. Many parents experience anxiety over the impact on their children’s values and moral development. They feel these media hinder the development of morals and healthy values.
A series of surveys on the topic has revealed parents believe negative character traits and values dominate social media. According to a recent survey, a quarter of respondents pointed out values like self-control, forgiveness, fairness, honesty, and humility were lacking on social media.
Almost two-thirds of the parents surveyed said negative character traits like hostility, anger, hatred, ignorance, and arrogance were frequently demonstrated.
The good and the bad
While parents tend to focus on social media’s negative impact on values, they see some positive effects as well. Just under 75% stated they observed expression of one or more positive values on social media daily, giving creativity, humour, love, appreciation of beauty, and courage as examples.
This is easy to explain. Media like Meta and Twitter bring together people from all parts of the world and from all walks of life. We come across new situations and perspectives. We connect with people from different social groups, different religions, and different cultures. Being exposed to new and unfamiliar circumstances online can help people of all ages be more tolerant and understanding, which augments empathy. It lets us grasp things from other people’s perspectives in a way we couldn’t if we met them in real life.
Empathy and social decisions
There is a clear link between social media use and narcissism. What’s more, the use of social media impacts social decision-making negatively and erodes empathy by desensitizing. A project by the Jubilee Centre in the UK looked at the effect of social media use on value and character development, aiming to establish whether they can have some advantage in terms of development.
Researchers found that parents’ attitudes towards social media were predominantly negative. More than 50% of respondents believed social media undermined or hindered young people’s value or character development. Just 15% said these media could support or enhance it.
The effect on adults
Within the same project, parents were questioned about their own social media use. It emerged that regular users found positive values largely lacking there. Values they termed negative dominated. Returning to the issue of empathy: one couldn’t claim exposure will always translate to empathy. Empathy often isn’t part of an online environment, as the exorbitant rates of cyberbullying show.
The very essence of the internet is the real issue here. With its anonymity and invisibility, people might act very differently online than they would in the real world. This can lead to a dissonance of sorts, where one can believe they have positive values and high morals but act the exact opposite way online, convincing themselves they aren’t “that person.” It is precisely this dissonance that encourages cyberbullying and related behaviour.
Closer together or farther apart?
There’s the common question of whether social media and technology bring people closer together or drive them farther apart. The truth is that it can be both. Friends and relatives who can’t physically be together for whatever reason stay connected this way. People who don’t know each other, on the other hand, are more mistrustful of each other than they might be if they met in real life. Online dating is an example.
In every event, social media have made most users more superficial. People are drawn to a realm where they can be whoever they want. One major reason for depression due to social media use is that everyone looks so happy there. Are they really as happy as they look? Probably not. Still, the effect is very real.
A fake somebody or a real nobody?
We can present ourselves as new and unique on social media. Younger people are particularly at risk because they see the possibility of becoming Instagram or TikTok stars as very real. It seems so easy. In reality, one in a million users becomes a famous influencer.
A study on Canadian college students that explored social media use habits included a question on what they found to be of paramount importance in their lives. Researchers found social media use frequency was directly proportional to answers like “having fun” and “looking good.” Those who didn’t use media as often shared they were more concerned with being honest or helping others.
While we can’t blame social media for value erosion, we can’t discount their impact. There are many other factors at play. For example, shallow people could be more attracted to social media. Yet, the strength of the relationship between social media use and value erosion is startling. Shallowing impacts all kinds of people with all kinds of values, according to researchers.
Even deleted screenshots, pictures, or comments can live on, which is something many young people don’t grasp. Social networks, in particular, can interfere with moral development because it deters experimentation. You can’t change your mind or take anything back.
Platforms like Instagram influence young people very strongly due to their photo-reliant nature. They are in a unique position to sway one’s perception of wrong and right. They say seeing is believing, and it’s true. Even a fake picture can leave a profound impression. The point of pictures on social media is often to get the viewer to form a firm opinion without grasping nuance.
Pictures have visual primacy, making them more impactful than a status update or tweet. If a photo accumulates enough likes, it becomes more credible. We begin to perceive it as reliable and truthful. It’s an expression of the unfortunate herd mentality.
What’s more, people are prone to think something is true or normal until proven otherwise. The more we’re exposed to something, the more standard it seems. It can challenge or even change what we value.
Seeing numerous photos of underage people drinking alcohol and enjoying themselves undermines the idea that underage drinking is dangerous. You do not see the results – the hangover, the car crash, etc. Social media mislead people into believing the beautiful and exciting things they see are how the real world is supposed to be. An image fails to capture the ups and downs of day-to-day life.
An image on social media creates the illusion of a definite beginning, middle, and end to something. In most cases, it’s just a fake moment in time. This idea of “normalcy” can trap children who need attention to feel validated.
The notion of subtlety
What can parents do to instil and sustain the right values? It’s a question that’s been raised for decades with no single correct answer. Parents must help their children tell the real from the fake. This is no easy feat in a universe of professionally doctored photos and gorgeous filtered images. Banning kids from social media will have the opposite effect.
Your conversation with your child or teen doesn’t have to be tough to be meaningful. Let them be the expert if you don’t know much about TikTok or Instagram.
To introduce subtlety, ask questions. Looking at pictures with them at your side can be very helpful. Ask them what they think and discuss what may be real and what – fake. Parents have a voice, although many feel they’ve lost it.