Foxitis: Not Guilty by Reason of Sean Hannity?

Updated: Jul 3

Anthony Antonio has attempted to shift the blame for his actions in the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot onto Fox News, right-wing social media and President Trump himself. Such claims open up an old debate within media studies on how direct of an influence mass media holds over its audiences. So is this claim reasonable?

Antonio’s defence that Fox News made him do it is, as previously discussed, based on an outdated view of audiences as passive and uncritical. To dispute the direct effects of this hypodermic needle model one need only look at the role played by Fox News hosts and the aforementioned President prior to the event.

Research by sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld suggests that most audiences are influenced by these opinion leaders rather than directly by mass media itself. This two-step flow theory recasts Antonio along with all other audience members into the proactive role of choosing from whom they will get their analysis and opinions.

This theory too has, however, faced criticism, as there are seemingly more than two steps between the media and its audiences. Antonio’s own inclusion of right-wing social media on his list of influences that led him astray is indicative of how complicated the formerly simple flow from mass media to audiences has become.

Antonio, like most audiences in the era of Web 2.0, is at the centre of a unique self-curated network of contacts with a two-way multimodal communication flow. Writer Clay Shirky, upon seeing this complexity, has gone as far as to declare the end of audience itself, perhaps, leaving Antonio out of excuses.

Cambridge Skeptics: Live! discussed this on our YouTube channel.

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