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The Rise and Fall of Mass Communication

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William L. Benoit and Andrew C. Billings

Mass communication theories were largely built when we had mass media audiences. The number of television, print, film or other forms of media audiences were largely finite, concentrating people on many of the same core content offerings, whether that be the nightly news or a popular television show. What happens when those audiences splinter? The Rise and Fall of Mass Communication surveys the aftermath of exactly that, noting that very few modern media products have audiences above 1–2% of the population at any one time. Advancing a new media balkanization theory, Benoit and Billings neither lament nor embrace the new media landscape, opting instead to pinpoint how we must consider mass communication theories and applications in an era of ubiquitous choice.
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Chapter Two Partisan, Hostile, Fake, or Real: The Fragmentation of News

CHAPTER TWO

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Partisan, Hostile, Fake, orReal: The Fragmentationof News

In late 2019, two concurrent narratives played out in political media. One featured hearings for the impeachment of Republican President Donald J. Trump; the other unfolded quite differently on social media and in other conservative outlets. For instance, in one world, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Congress would advance impeachment charges against Trump “with the utmost gravity” while in the other world, four minutes after Pelosi was done speaking, President Trump used Twitter to call the decision “witch hunt garbage” and then, 30 seconds after that, Trump’s re-election campaign, grabbed the President’s baton. Although most mainstream media outlets relayed the gravity of the impeachment charges, Bennett and Wilson (2019) document that 20 minutes (and just $100,000) was all it took to place paid advertisements in the feeds of two million Facebook accounts, each exclaiming that “The ONLY thing stopping Democrats from carrying out their impeachment WITCH HUNT is Patriotic Americans standing with President Trump” (emphasis original, p. 52). The campaign message then filters through Facebook and becomes less easily traced; once one of those two million people shared the ad, it still appeared as Trump-sponsored on the user/sharer’s account, yet conspicuously does not get presented as Trump-sponsored to accounts in which the content is shared. Suddenly, it appears in tens of millions of other feeds, everyone is producing “witch hunt”-related messages. Americans were talking about the same topic, but the postulates we typically tout via agenda-setting ←29 | 30...

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