Questioning media influence in the wake of the 2016 presidential election

Published 11:14 am Monday, November 21, 2016

By Gracie Synder, Catie Coan, Kady Cox,
Darby Johnson, Anne Merrill Jones
and Bailey Martin

With the influence of social media and rise of “fake news” in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, many are questioning whether they can believe what they read and whether they can trust journalists and traditional media as valid information sources.

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In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, University of Mississippi students are addressing the role the media played.

Ocean Springs native Tristen Lindley, 20, is a mechanical engineering major who identifies as an independent. Lindley said his family was divided during the election.

“My family is definitely conservative, but I have totally different views,” Lindley said. “I’m a very middle-of-the-road kind of person – never side with one or the other, just (depends) on their political standpoints.”

Lindley said he believes the media fabricated stories about both candidates and exaggerated their respective words.

“Donald Trump had just everything thrown at him, from his background to his beliefs, and a few statements that he may have had were twisted and turned,” he said. “While I’m not saying he’s a great man, it was brought out larger than it should have been.

“And Hillary, same thing. Every mistake she made was turned into a huge scandal, even though they were small blemishes.”

This was the first time Hannah Smith, a junior exercise science major, voted in the presidential election. Smith kept up with the candidates via Twitter and the news and believes the media was influential.

“Both candidates were very active on social media, and it was an easy and quick way to keep up with their views,” Smith said, “but it also harmed them because it showed some immaturity between the two of them.”

Smith said she is concerned about perceived media bias. “The way news stations are going to portray certain candidates is the way they want the world to see them, and they often twist words and situations,” she said.

UM student Austin Moran also believes the media was influential in the presidential election.

“The media absolutely played a role in this election,” he said, “and I am sure the media might have changed people’s views of their candidate, or vise versa. America made a statement (on Election Day) and spoke up for what and who they believed in.”

Memphis native Alaina Bierdz, 21, is an international studies major who works as a community assistant for Northgate Apartments on campus. She identified as a Republican during this election.

Bierdz also believes the media and technology were influential.

“The Access Hollywood video that came out about Trump definitely affected him in the polls,” Bierdz said.

Bierdz thinks news coverage was balanced, but she doesn’t think it was factual.

“It was harmful and helpful for both sides,” she said. “It’s all political, and they’ll do whatever they have to do so they can get their candidate to win.”

This was also sophomore Sara “Cookie” White’s first presidential election as a voter.

White, 18, who describes herself as an independent, works in the Writing Center on campus, studies integrated marketing communications and aspires to work in the entertainment industry after graduating. She said there are aspects of all political parties she agrees with, making her choice to support a single candidate difficult.

“Because so much of my major involves analyzing and researching social media, I was able to pay attention to this election via social media applications, such as Facebook and Twitter,” White said. “Obviously, there was a ton of bias. The majority of news publications are labeled as a conservative or liberal source of information, and people shared the ones that often portrayed their favored candidate in a positive light, and the opposite in a negative.”

Social media accounts, such as Old Row, a commonly associated Greek apparel company, have been questioned in the last few days about their influence on the young adult population.

“I think, because of the time we live in, social media plays one of the most – if not the most – important roles in politics today,” White said. “You have 140 characters to state your opinion, whether it’s false or misguided, and thousands of others have access to it.”

Coco McDonnell, 20, is a UM junior marketing major who said she’s happy with the election results.

“I think the media definitely tried to favor Hillary Clinton over Trump,” she said. “Media outlets from the beginning favored Clinton and wanted to make Trump sound like he was such an awful person.”

McDonnell said she’d like to see Trump keep his promise to bring America together and fill the gap she believes the Obama administration has created the past eight years.

“I believe that without the media, some of Hillary’s supporters would not have voted for her and possibly would have voted for Trump,” McDonnell said. “Clinton clearly got more positive attention than Trump. All the media did was try to slam Trump, but wouldn’t show what bad things Clinton was doing.”

Lindley said he’s witnessed the diverse sides of political coverage and questioned the media as a whole.

“The fair media coverage – it’s kind of a complicated question, because it depends on the source you are getting it from,” Lindley said. “There are definitely conservative sides that are going to twist it, and there are definitely Democratic sides that are going to twist it as well. You have to look at both sides and make your own judgment based on that. ”