By Travis V.
In today’s digital age, the ability to understand and interpret the ads and commercials is more important than ever as we are surrounded by them through more and more mechanisms every day. Media Literacy is the ability to analyze different types of media and understand the implication behind the messages seen every day. This is especially important in the case of political elections where every citizen is asked to make a decision for our country based on their knowledge and understanding of the messages provided by the candidates and their supporters. In this case, media literacy is required to understand not only the platform of the person you are voting for, but also what propositions to support. Due to the work of Political Action Committees, Lobbyists and the experts hired to work on presidential campaigns, not everything may be as it seems as these groups work to sell the voter on their opinion through extensive media campaigns that may exaggerate the negatives of the opposing view point. Without high levels of media literacy of the propositions and the platforms of the candidates, campaign advertisements and speeches have the ability to sway voters’ opinions by taking advantage of those with lower levels of understanding.
When campaigning for either a specific candidate or in garnering support or opposition to a specific proposition, money must be raised in order to advertise to the masses. For example, during the 2012 election, Obama’s Democratic super political action committee (PAC) spent $65 million on advertisements attacking Mitt Romney. This money accounted for 100% of the funds raised – showing a focus solely on negative advertisements meant to highlight past mistakes of Romney in order to sway voters opinions. In the same fashion, Restore Our Future, a Republican super PAC, spent $88.6 million on advertisements attacking Barrack Obama, 87% of their total spending (Ashkenas et al.). Every television commercial, Youtube advertisement, Facebook post, tweet, or other type of media advertisement from one of the parties provides only one side of the argument, often even speaking negatively of their opponent’s position rather than presenting the facts in a more straightforward manner. Attack ads actually increased from only 9% in 2008 to 70% in the 2012 election (Greenstein). Since this negative tactic is clearly a growing trend, it is imperative that the public increase their levels of media literacy in order to have a better understanding of the nature of the advertisements. In turn, they would be able to take the negative ads with a grain of salt and appropriately decipher the elements of both sides of the argument. Without a certain level of media literacy, the public can be confused by the negative ads because they are not able to discern truth from exaggeration or even may accept the stance of one party on all elements of a platform due to a lack of knowledge.
One key example of the importance of having media literacy occurred during the voting campaigns for Proposition 8 in the 2008 California election. Proposition 8 was a highly controversial proposition addressing the definition of marriage. Although commonly called the gay marriage act, if the proposition were to pass it would add a clause to the California state constitution defining marriage as only that between a man and a woman. Due to the confusing wording and labeling of the proposition, many supporters of gay marriage believed they should vote yes to the proposition and many of the opposition felt they should vote no. West Hollywood City Councilman, John Duran, went as far to say in an article in the Los Angeles Times “There is confusion on both sides over yes meaning no and no meaning yes.“ He was a part of a campaign to spread knowledge of voting No on 8 and said he even heard supporters of the proposition say “I’m opposed to gay marriage, so I’m voting no”(Garrison). In this instance, media literacy and ability to understand the messages behind the propositions on the ballot was imperative to vote in the manner that actually reflected your viewpoint.
Having a higher level of media literacy ensures that the public will make an educated vote in their effort to properly contribute to the democratic process. The increase of negative campaign ads combined with uninformed voters regarding the true impacts of propositions highlight the need to increase media literacy in this country. Without media literacy, voters may vote in opposition to their views due to an inability to decipher the messages and information available to them. This is in direct opposition of the democratic process as it hinders the ability of the people to be properly educated on important issues in order to elect the best candidate or pass the right propositions that support the true beliefs of the people.
Ashkenas, Jeremy et al. “The 2012 Money Race: Compare the Candidates.” The New York Times 2012.
Garrison, Jessica. “Prop. 8 Leaves Some Voters Puzzled.” Los Angeles Times 2008.
Greenstein, Nicole. “Negative Ads Increase Dramatically During 2012 Presidential Election.” Los Angeles Times 2012.