Date of Graduation

5-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Journalism (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Journalism

Advisor

Rob Wells

Committee Member

Janine Parry

Second Committee Member

Ray McCaffrey

Keywords

Media Theory, Online Discourse, Opinion Sharing, Public Discourse, Social Media, Social Research, TikTok

Abstract

Media algorithms are increasing in use among popular social networking sites (Geiger, 2009).Algorithms are used to sort a users’ social media feed based on relevance and interest rather than content publish time (Geiger, 2009). Widely accepted and recognized as influential in the media sector, algorithms create a highly personalized experience for the individual viewer. However, some scholars argue the specified curation of media based on a user’s personal preferences leads to a “filter bubble,” an online-based self-fulfilling prophecy in which users’ pre-existing opinions are continually reaffirmed. Because of this, this thesis will examine the intersection of algorithms and media theory. A survey will explore if media algorithms play a role in diminishing public discourse within public sphere theory as outlined by Jürgen Habermas. Under the Habermassian ideal, the public sphere works as a place for open and unrestricted discourse of all individuals. However, connecting like-minded users and creating highly specified social media feeds through algorithms “…amplify and systematically move…talking points into the mainstream political discourse” (Daniels, 2018). These talking points are then discussed among social media users who likely view the same content based on their similar interests and algorithms. Other media theorists such as Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1974) argue that individuals feel a “spiral of silence” when they express a minority opinion. This silence is placed in an interesting position as individuals rarely face a minority opinion in the hands of algorithm technology. Though sophisticated algorithms, public discourse is limited to a select few topics for like-minded users, which I argue leads to a lack of diversity in political discourse.

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