In How to do Nothing, Odell discusses ideas such as social media influence, mass media influence and politics. Specifically, how social and mass media, like CNN and Fox News, have the ability to influence politicians’ agenda in terms of things that they want or policies that they want passed. It can sway people into having a specific stance on an issue without actually thinking for themselves. A current example that works well with Odell’s thoughts is the storming of the Capitol Building. I think that these ideas mesh well with her discussion of how social media has the ability to influence people on the grounds of politics.
A major source of divide among people is the influence that mass media has on our beliefs, values, and judgements. The media in the past couple of years has strayed from just reporting the news into massive corporations driven only by profits. Sometimes I feel that humans are constantly at war with one another, arguing over issues that have no relevance in the grand scheme of things. One of these issues that I have experienced first hand in my life has been the discussion of politics. Throughout my years of going to school, I have been a part of many classes and conversations that had to do with past and current political issues in both the United States and in other nations. These discussions tend to get pretty intense, as many people have strong opinions on a variety of different issues on both sides of the aisle. However, I have noticed that when having these discussions they have the potential to get out of hand and turn into a screaming match rather than a political discussion. It’s almost as if we dehumanize people based on their beliefs, especially if that belief that they hold is different from our own. I think that if we want to progress as a society, we need to realize that most people want what is best for humanity and understand that we are all human beings in the end despite our differences and opinions. I realize that this may be somewhat of a naive view of the world, as we cannot expect people to be so accepting and open to new ideas all of the sudden after years of rejecting new ideas. But I do think that there is something to be said for trying to understand where the other person is coming from when having a politically charged conversation. Instead of just shutting down and completely ignoring what the other person is arguing, see if you can comprehend why they have that position. Even if you disagree with what they are saying, at least we have added the human element back into our thought process, as you may be able to see where they are coming from in some way. It’s a two way street when having these conversations, and the other person may not reciprocate the same level of headedness when talking about hot button issues. The discussion of issues in a clear way, where everyone is heard no matter what they believe, I think is a step in the right direction for all people.
All of these dividing factors allow for the media to play on our emotions, as the only thing they are trying to do is grab your attention and influence you to think a certain way or perform a specific action. I think that this vulnerability is something that President Trump used to his advantage when talking about this past Presidential Election through his tweets.
With social media, on January 6th, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. The angry mob was able to break into and loot many of the buildings in the Capitol Complex, and they were forced to lockdown and evacuate those buildings. This riot left over one-hundred people injured, and five people were killed. The reason for this riot was because people on the radical right side of the political spectrum believed that the 2020 Presidential Election had been stolen from them. Why was that idea planted in their heads? In short, social media.
President Trump used his massive social media following, specifically Twitter, to influence people to riot and destroy areas of Washington, D.C. By using his platform on social media, he was able to reach a larger audience that he would not have been able to otherwise.
President Trump tweeted things such as, “We are up big, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed.” And, “Doing a great job in Georgia. Their recount is a scam, means nothing. Must see fraudulent signatures which is prohibited by stupidly signed and unconstitutional consent decree.”
With somebody as powerful as a United States president Tweeting and knowingly making claims that would cause a rally among his most radical supporters demonstrates the overall influence that social media can have on society. President Trump has such a large following and on social media, and by posting something online, was able to generate acts of violence directed at those who opposed him, which were members of the government from the democratic party. He was able to wield a great amount of influence and power that he would not have otherwise been able to use without social media. Social media allowed President Trump to reach millions of people in a matter of seconds. Those people who stormed the capitol saw what President Trump had said, and felt strongly enough to commit acts of violence in our nation’s capital. This demonstrates the volatility of social media, and when put in the wrong hands, can be a dangerous weapon for anyone with a smartphone. This ties into Odell’s discussion of how social media can play a huge role in not only our lives, but the attention economy as a whole.
According to Allison Holman, a professor at University of California, Irvine and an expert in Psychological Trauma, “It turns out that news coverage is far more than a benign source of facts. From our attitudes to immigrants to the content of our dreams, it can sneak into our subconscious and meddle with our lives in surprising ways. It can lead us to miscalculate certain risks, shape our views of foreign countries, and possibly influence the health of entire economies. It can increase our risk of developing post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. Now there’s emerging evidence that the emotional fallout of news coverage can even affect our physical health — increasing our chances of having a heart attack or developing health problems years later.”
I also think that the media plays a big influence on what to believe by always taking a firm stance on an issue which polarizes the public. It seems as if today that the news is never just given in terms of facts, but rather there is always some sort of spin put on it depending on the news network providing that news. For example, if CNN puts out a news story they may try and put an emphasis on the liberal point of view being the correct point of view. The same goes for a news outlet like Fox News; they would try to be a more conservative spin on whatever the story is. The point of all of this is that the news media in our world today can have an impact on how people view politics and politicians. If a powerful news media outlet frames someone or something in a negative light, people will believe what they are told and view that with a negative light.
Mainly in the last chapter of her book, Odell talks about social media and how it plays such a large role in our lives. If politicians use social media the right way, they can have even more influence than they already have. I think that this role is too large, as we tend to blindly follow and believe everything that it has to offer. People are able to be influenced to believe certain things and commit certain actions because of how many people the mass media is able to reach in a small amount of time. By discussing politics, Odell made me realize how big of a role mass media plays in our everyday lives.
“The 65 days that led to chaos at the Capitol” by Shayan Sardarizadeh and Jessica Lussenhop, BBC News, January 10th 2021
“B. F. Skinner.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner.
Odell, Jenny. How to Do Nothing. Brooklyn: Melville, 2019.
“The storming of Capitol Hill was organized on social media” by Sheera Frenkel, The New York Times, January 6th 2021
“2021 storming of the United States Capitol” by Wikipedia contributors, Wikipedia, Date of last revision: 12 May 2021