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🔢 Key Takeaways

  1. Limit news consumption from a variety of sources to maintain a balanced perspective on the pandemic and avoid unnecessary stress.
  2. Despite media bias towards negative news, the U.S. economy is growing and even poor people are better off. High-tech companies are subsidized by investors' optimism. Optimistic voices can have more impact than isolated critics. Media outlets shape public perception with their negativity bias.
  3. US media tends to focus on negative stories, with 87% of Covid coverage being negative. Profit maximization and catering to existing fears contribute to this trend. Be critical of media sources and seek out balanced reporting.
  4. Not all news on Covid-19 is negative. Seek out balanced reporting from various sources to get a full and accurate picture of the situation.
  5. Our inherent negativity bias causes media outlets to deliver negative news to maintain their audience. However, we should be mindful of this bias and actively seek out positive news in order to balance our perspective.
  6. Language lacks specific words for positive emotions and experiences, leading to lengthy descriptions. Media headlines focus on negativity, creating a skewed view of the world. Being aware of these biases can help us form a more balanced understanding of the world.
  7. Major media outlets in America focus on negative stories for profit, while public players in other countries prioritize truth over profit. Political bias does not necessarily correlate with negative news coverage. Negativity in American media has decreased recently.
  8. Media and social media can shape public opinion on important issues, but consumers must be critical thinkers and fact-checkers to avoid misinformation and polarization.
  9. Referring to the outgroup on social media generates more engagement but also perpetuates animosity. Posts about the ingroup receive more positive reactions.
  10. Social media uses our instinct to pay attention to negative content and amplifies it. Politicians suggest reducing amplification of negative content about outgroups. Understanding social media psychology can help navigate its effects.
  11. While negativity towards outgroups can bring attention, it may not improve one's brand image. Individuals should take responsibility for their actions online and be aware of the potential consequences.
  12. Social media platforms tend to focus on negative content, but studies suggest that people are happier when they step away from them. Platforms could promote positivity through subtle algorithm changes and emphasizing positive news like the Olympics.
  13. Social media and local newspapers have different levels of negativity due to their business models. Inconsistent positive messaging may lead to vaccine hesitancy. Media highlighting solutions can have an upside.
  14. Focusing on solutions and progress, rather than past failures, is crucial to tackling challenges like Covid, climate change, inequality, and poverty. The media can help by promoting practical solutions and optimism.

📝 Podcast Notes

Is the media causing unnecessary anxiety with negative COVID-19 coverage?

The coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in major US media outlets may be overly negative, causing unnecessary anxiety and stress among the public. Economist Bruce Sacerdote believes that useful information about the pandemic is being overshadowed by the media's focus on deaths and infection rates, resulting in a lack of perspective. The Centers for Disease Control advises limiting news consumption for our mental health. The economic setup of the media industry may also be playing a role in driving this negative tone. Therefore, it is essential to consume news from different sources and maintain a balanced perspective on the pandemic.

The Power of Pessimism and Optimism in Media and Tech Markets

Major media outlets thrive on pessimism, while tech markets thrive on optimism. Despite the negative news bias, there is economic growth in the U.S. and poor people are becoming better off, albeit at a slower rate than rich people. Investors subsidize high-tech companies like Tesla and Amazon with optimism for future payoffs. Cable TV, particularly Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, continue to see revenue growth and massive profit margins. Sacerdote suggests that a group of optimistic voices could be more effective than one or two voices crying in the wilderness. The medium is the message, and media outlets shape public perception with their negative bias and emphasis on bad news.

The Negative Bias in US Media and Covid Coverage

The media has a tendency to produce negative stories that cater to people's existing fears, and this is particularly strong in the US. A research project analyzing Covid news coverage in major US media, local and regional US media, international media outlets, and scientific journals shows that negative stories outnumber positive ones by a significant margin, and this trend is not necessarily driven by the trend in cases. The share of negative coverage in national US media was 87%, which is significantly higher than international media (51%), US regional media (53%), and scientific journals (64%). While journalism spans a wide spectrum, the most crowd-pleasing outlets follow the mantra "If it bleeds, it leads," indicating that profit maximization plays a role in the coverage of news stories.

The Overlooked Positive News on Covid-19

Mainstream media tends to focus on negative news regarding Covid-19, but there actually is positive scientific news out there that doesn't get as much attention. President Trump's vaccine efforts were often portrayed critically in major US media outlets, while foreign media outlets focused on the progress being made by scientists in developing vaccines. The New York Times and other major US media outlets tend to have high levels of negativity in their Covid-19 related articles compared to regional and local papers or TV channels. It's important to seek out balanced and accurate reporting to get a full picture of the situation.

The Self-Reinforcing Cycle of Negative News in the Media

Negative news may be a self-reinforcing cycle perpetuated by media outlets, as people tend to have a built-in negativity bias. The New York Times is just one example of how the media has increasingly delivered negative news to maintain its audience. Academic studies have shown that humans are more likely to pay attention to risk and negativity, as it can serve a valuable function. The English language itself is also influenced by this negative bias, with more words for negative emotions than positive ones. While it remains unclear whether news outlets create or meet our demand for negative news, we should be mindful of our biases and actively seek out positive news as well.

The Influence of Language and Media Biases on Our Perception of the World

Language lacks specific words for positive emotions and experiences, leading to lengthy descriptions to convey meaning. Negativity in media headlines creates a heightened state of awareness and urgency to take action, shaping our perception of events. Profit-maximization drives American media outlets to focus on negative news, contributing to a skewed view of the world. Tolstoy was right in his claim that unhappy families are unique in their suffering, but language limitations prevent us from naming specific types of happiness. The absence of a verb for 'telling the truth' also highlights how language often focuses on departures from the norm. We need to be aware of these language and media biases to form a more balanced understanding of the world and our experiences.

Why does the American media focus on negative stories?

The American media has a tendency to focus on negative stories, as it drives viewership and clicks. This is not because Americans have a taste for negativity, but rather due to the profit motive of major media outlets. Other countries with public players, such as the B.B.C. or the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., are less motivated by profit and more motivated by the truth. Despite this, there was no relationship found between political bias and negative news coverage. However, the negativity in American media seems to have decreased over the past few months, suggesting that part of it was due to the political environment.

The impact of media and social media on public opinion

The media's negativity towards various issues, including climate change, poverty alleviation, and unemployment, can lead to individuals feeling hopeless and less likely to believe that these problems can be solved. Social media, despite its reputation for being a positive space, is actually reliant on capturing attention to sell advertising, and can often perpetuate misinformation and polarization. More than half of Americans get their news from social media, making it a powerful tool for driving engagement and selling advertising. This emphasizes the importance of critical thinking when consuming news on social media, and the need for reliable fact-checking.

The power of outgroup references on social media engagement.

Posts on social media that refer to an outgroup, someone who is on the other side of the political aisle, receive significantly more engagement in terms of shares, comments, and reactions, according to a study that analyzed posts from conservative and liberal media platforms and Republican and Democratic members of Congress from 2016 to 2020. Each additional word referring to the outgroup increased the number of retweets or shares of the post by 67 percent. However, posts about the ingroup receive more like or heart reactions. The study emphasizes the significant role that outgroup animosity plays in social media engagement.

The Perverse Incentives of Social Media: Amplifying Negative Messaging

Moral words such as 'evil' or 'hate' lead to increased social media virality, reflecting the perverse incentives of social media. While social media regulations vary globally, politicians on both sides suggest less amplification of negative content about outgroups for a potential solution. Social media takes advantage of an ancient instinct to pay attention to negative, polarizing, or divisive messaging, but algorithmically amplifies it. The impact of social media regulation remains to be seen, but understanding the psychology behind social media engagement can help individuals and businesses navigate its effects.

The Double-Edged Sword of Social Media Attention

Politicians like Donald Trump who use social media to get attention may face a double-edged sword. They may get more visibility at the cost of appearing more unlikable. In non-political realms, being negative towards outgroups may also bring attention, but it may not necessarily make people like one's brand more. The phenomenon of outgroup negativity is powerful, but it is not advised that everyone should engage in it. Instead of blaming social media platforms, individuals should take responsibility for their actions and be aware of the consequences of their actions online.

The Amplification of Negativity on Social Media

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter claim that they are just a mirror of society, but research shows that they amplify the bad and the ugly. Negative content captures our attention more than positive content. Although people might want to share negative stories, research shows that when we leave these platforms, we often are happier. Facebook could make subtle algorithm tweaks to encourage more positive reactions and emotions rather than angry reactions, which could lead to more viral positivity. The coverage of events like the Olympics, which focus on positivity rather than negativity, shows that positivity has more value than negativity.

The Power of Bad and Negativity Bias in Social Media and Local Newspapers

Social media's business model of constant engagement has led to the power of bad being a strong bias, but it is not equally powerful in all domains. The New York Times has a higher negativity number compared to local papers, which tend to focus on local happenings. Local newspapers may not be profit-maximizing, which could be why they don't promote negativity as much. However, media coverage that doesn't just highlight problems but also explores solutions could have an upside. One example is how inconsistent positive messaging about vaccines may have contributed to vaccine hesitancy.

Americans' Negativity Hinders Progress on Major Issues

Many Americans are too pessimistic about their ability to tackle issues such as Covid, climate change, inequality, and poverty. This negativity is holding society back instead of looking at solutions and progress. There should be a market for sensible moderates who acknowledge that government can work while also caring about deficits, but this perspective is not being widely promoted. It is crucial to focus on what can be done rather than what has been done poorly. The media has a powerful role to play in promoting positivity and practical solutions rather than constant negativity.