It is assumed that the basic function of the mass media is to disseminate information to enlighten people on things happening around them. Through this enlightenment, mass media can transmit people’s culture and norms to the audience. Mass media is also used for entertainment, and so can be used for relaxation purposes. However, one function of mass media that is unknown to many and can be detrimental if manipulated by the wrong party is its persuasive function.
Mass media is one of the agents of socialization because it is effective in teaching and forming the characters of society members. Socialization is a process, whereby people learn to live in a given society. Through socialization, an individual is taught societal values, beliefs, taboos, accepted behaviors, and norms. It influences people by telling them what to do and what to believe in.
The easiest and fastest way to achieve this is through the mediums of mass media – television, newspaper, magazine, internet, radio, and so on – which reach a large number of the targeted audience within a short while. Hence, mass media does not just enlighten, entertain or transmit culture, it is also meant to influence the behaviors, beliefs, thoughts, and actions of others. This is why it is dangerous when used for negative intentions.
The increase in the rate of social vices has been attributed to peer pressure. Of course, with the arrival of social media, peers from different parts of the world can connect through social media platforms. Today, the world is gradually becoming a small community because people can virtually connect and constantly stay in contact irrespective of their geographical locations. They can organize, through social media, to carry out actions considered illegal by their society. For instance, recently, sex parties were organized in Nigeria through social media platforms. Some of these parties were intercepted by law enforcers but many managed to beat the police. What is more, videos of these parties were uploaded to the internet and made to go viral. This attitude can ginger others to organise their party and maybe they will get away with it. Today, parents do not only have to worry about the friends their children keep physically but also the ones they keep virtually.
Another negative effect of mass media is the radicalization of individuals. When the media constantly reports a problem or threat, it can create an effect that will radicalize the audience later. An example includes overzealous reports on political events, which are unfavorable to the people. By doing this, the media works on the audience psyche and, gradually, prepares them for radicalization. Furthermore, analyzing a movement to portray its benefits could also radicalize people. This is why mass media has indirectly been used to cause public unrest, mob actions, insurgency, assassinations, banditry, and thefts.
Mass media can also affect people’s mental health. It has been reported that mass media, especially social media, is one of the factors that cause anxiety and depression. Research has shown that people, who often visit social media, feel lonely and depressed despite having many virtual “friends”. Virtual friends are said to prevent people from making real-life ones and, since it is only through real-life contacts that humans can relieve stress, having more virtual friends than real-life ones creates loneliness.
Even though mass media has negative effects on individuals, it is still an indispensable tool for human and societal development. However, in the hands of the wrong persons, it becomes the tool for destruction. The major problem here is that it is almost impossible to prevent its use by the wrong persons. Nevertheless, understanding its power will help you to filter what you are exposed to. Hence, so long as you steer clear of any piece of information that will radicalize you or make you commit an offense, you will benefit fully from the mass media.