(for ATOM Conference 2015)

Strengths and Challenges of Media Influence


  • complex and post-modern understandings
  • will challenge students pre-conceived ideas
  • feels pertinent
  • chances to quickly react to current media issues


  • can be bloody hard work
  • a lot of high concepts at the end of a busy curriculum
  • there is a lot to cover in a short amount of time
  • student expected to give a ‘well rounded’ understanding under exam conditions

Examiner’s Report:

“Overall, responses showed a good grasp of basic knowledge of theories. However, the area of research into media influence is dynamic, and ongoing, due to much new research and in response to the impact of new media forms and technologies, including video games and the Internet. Although references to examples such as the War of the Worlds broadcast and the Bobo doll experiment are often appropriate, there is far more current and relevant material that students can refer to.”

– 2010 Assessment Report (Media), Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority

Sample Timeline:

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 9.51.57 pm


Theories / Models Covered


  • Hypodermic Needle Theory


  • Uses and Gratification Theory
  • Reinforcement Theory
  • Cultivation Theory


  • Agenda Setting Function Theory
  • Two-Step Flow / Ideavirus
  • Encoding / Decoding Model


Using Research In Media Influence

  • Make sure you are covering historical research that underpins theories and models
  • Cover a range of research that covers different types of research into both negative and positive media influence
  • Most Media Influence research is coming from an Effects Tradition perspective. Include research that explores influence from different perspectives
  • There’s lots of dodgy and lazy influence research. Students should be assessing strengths and weaknesses.



Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 10.37.19 pm


  • Wertham was the leader of an anti-comics crusade in the 1940s and 50s
  • At the time comics were extremely popular, 95% of children actively read comic books
  • Wertham was a psychiatrist that worked with juvenile delinquents
  • His research looked at content analysis of comic books as well as ‘case studies’ of juvenile delinquents
  • There was a rapid decline in comic books after his book was published and the introduction of the self regulatory body, the ‘Comics Code Authority’.

  • “We found that comic-book reading was a distinct influencing factor in the case of every single delinquent or disturbed child we studied.”
  • Wertham believed that comic books depiction of violence and crime had a direct influence on children who were developmental not ready to handle the subject matter.
  • He also was concerned with unrealistic representations of women and racist representations in comic books.
  • Other concerns were that Superman was a symbol of violent race superiority and of Batman and Robin’s overt homosexual overtones.

Raunchy popstars a bad influence on little kids

  • South Australian research
  • Recorded the types of clothing worn by 366 Prep to Year 7 students to their Primary School disco
  • Content analysis of 402 music videos, finding that more than 50% contain raunchy content
  • Also did a laboratory study where children were asked to dress paper dolls after watching sexually suggestive music videos

‘Real To Me’ – Girls and Reality TV

  • Research done by the Girl Scouts Research Institute
  • Looking at the effect of the representation of women on reality television shows on teenage girls aged 11-17
  • Done through a survey of 1,141 girls
  • Research found negative and positive effects

  • Regular reality TV viewers accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives as well.
  • girls who view reality TV regularly are more focused on the value of physical appearance.
  • research indicates that regular reality TV viewers emphasize being mean and/or lying to get ahead.
  • the benefits of reality TV most frequently noted by all girls were opening the lines of communication, serving as a learning and motivational tool, and encouraging girls to be active in social causes.


Study: Kids can learn as much from ‘Sesame Street’ as from preschool

  • ‘found data’ research study
  • Sesame Street started in 1969 in America
  • At the time not everyone could receive Sesame Street, it was based on the type of antenna your city used
  • Researchers used census and school data to track those who could receive the signal
  • After “Sesame Street” was introduced, children living in places where its broadcast could be more readily received saw a 14 percent drop in their likelihood of being behind in school.

Social Media Research

Massive scale emotional contagion through social networks

  • Facebook ran an experiment for one week on 680,000 users in 2012.
  • The experiment was to manipulate user’s news feeds to see the effect of increased negative or negative news items
  • Users were not aware of the research being done


  • Research found that changing user’s news feed did have an effect on future posts of the user, either negative or positive
  • The effect was small (1 out of every 1.000 words) but statistically significant
  • Since the experiment Facebook has had to apologise for the experiment and change their research policies

The battle for Trayvon Martin

  • One of the biggest US stories of 2012, the killing of Trayvon Marton only small local news coverage
  • The story gained attention and dominated headlines and twitter for months, thanks to a series of online campaigns
  • Research uses quantitative data of coverage over Trayvon Martin and the connection between professional, non professional and social media
  • Research was done by MIT Centre for Civic Media

  • gatekeeping power is still deeply rooted in broadcast media
  • national attention brought to the story through broadcast media allowed groups to amplify stories to their online communities
  • broadcast media is vulnerable to influence from activists who are growing more tactical around manipulating the dynamics of news cycles
  • online communities demonstrate agenda–setting power both by organizing protests like the Million Hoodie Marches and by influencing online dialog, suggesting alternative interpretations of events.

Other Research

Case Studies

  • Make sure you are covering case studies that underpins theories and models
  • Cover a range of case studies into both negative and positive media influence
  • It’s a great chance to explore topical events, but make sure students can point to facts and statistics that point to the influence they are discussing



  • Ghostwatch was a British horror/mockumentary movie first broadcast on BBC1 on 31st October 1992
  • The show was presented as a ‘live’ and unscripted factual program
  • It involved BBC reporters performing an investigation of a haunted house
  • Things don’t end well

  • Over 2,500 people called the station to complain or voice concerns that what they’d seen is true
  • Also was blamed for the suicide of a mentally challenged man five days after the screening
  • A report was published in the British Medical Journal describing two cases of Ghostwatch-induced post-traumatic stress disorder in 10 year old boys


Charlotte Dawson’s Twitter Trolls (2012)

  • Charlotte Dawson attempted suicide in 2012 after being harassed on twitter after calling out ‘twitter bullies’ on television
  • Dawson gave a television interview soon after this attempt on 60 minutes to keep the topic in the national eye

  • Dawson also had a long history of depression, which ultimately led to her death in 2014. She also admitted to being very drunk at the time of the attempt
  • Analysts have also suggested that the campaign against Dawson was a campaign to discredit website ‘9gag’ by rival web community ‘4chan’

Ben Cousins ‘Such Is Life’

  • In 2012 the Ben Cousins documentary ‘Such Is Life’ aired on channel seven over two nights.
  • The show documented the struggles with drug addiction Cousins had in graphic detail
  • The show promoted drug counselling service ‘DirectLine’ after each episode
  • In Victoria, the DirectLine helpline took about 250 calls on both nights it was broadcast
  • The website also saw traffic up by more that 400 per cent on the previous month

Social Media Campaigns