Friday, April 14, 2017

The impact of media is zero

Totalitarians are always trying to control the speech (and actions) of others, usually under the guise that such speech represents real harm to others. They want to deplatform, nudge, shame or outlaw speech of dissenters. It is easy to see this as some sort of holdover from a decades old Soviet cultural deconstruction strategy, a rear-guard Gramscian effort. Perhaps there is some small sliver that is indeed consciously seeking to undermine the success of the individualistic, democratic, capitalistic, natural rights West through postmodernism, deconstructionism, critical theory approaches, etc. but I suspect this is primarily simply an outcome of uncultured thugs wanting to indulge their coercive instincts. For some, sex and money are nowhere near as alluring as control over others.

Free speech is one battlefield where totalitarians never cease to spar. Despite the First Amendment guarantees, governments and movements have always sought to constrain (closing the Overton Window of what can be discussed through PC shaming), suppress (deplatforming speakers, controlling media, and exercising the heckler's veto), or prohibit speech (criminalizing Hate Speech).

One argument has always been that simply reading words can cause people to lose control of their self-control and cause them to do unconscionable things. See, Comics, culture and influence for good or ill for an earlier discussion. Whether it is violence in comic books or movies, pornography (Meese Report) or the modern forms of trying to define into existence a Hate Speech Crimes, Implicit Association Tests, Politically Correct Speech, totalitarians have tried to reverse the age old adage "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" into "sticks and stones and words can equally hurt me."

The odd things is that these are always arguments of ideological or religious conviction. There is little or no evidence to support them. There was great rejoicing among social totalitarians when it looked like sociopsychology might have given them a sciencey-looking empirical Implicit Association Tests which seemed to justify the ideological belief that all whites are racist. The hallelujahs turned to dogged repetition of an article of faith as the faith accumulated that IAT actually had no relationship to actions.

Do teens reading or viewing sexy materials turn into sex addicts and deviants, a common puritanical totalitarian claim? The evidence has always been weak and confused. The latest paper, a meta-analysis concludes "The impact of media on teen sexuality was minimal with effect sizes near to zero."

From the abstract of Does Sexy Media Promote Teen Sex? A Meta-Analytic and Methodological Review by Christopher J. Ferguson, Rune K. L. Nielsen and Patrick M. Markey:
Parents and policy makers are often concerned that sexy media (media depicting or discussing sexual encounters) may promote sexual behavior in young viewers. There has been some debate among scholars regarding whether such media promote sexual behaviors. It remains unclear to what extent sexy media is a risk factor for increased sexual behavior among youth. The current study employed a meta-analysis of 22 correlational and longitudinal studies of sexy media effects on teen sexual behavior (n = 22,172). Moderator analyses examined methodological and science culture issues such as citation bias. Results indicated the presence only of very weak effects. General media use did not correlate with sexual behaviors (r = 0.005), and sexy media use correlated only weakly with sexual behaviors (r = 0.082) once other factors had been controlled. Higher effects were seen for studies with citation bias, and lower effects when family environment is controlled. The impact of media on teen sexuality was minimal with effect sizes near to zero.
It is a complex issue and this won't settle the issue. But it is one more brick in the wall against puritanical, Gramscian totalitarians and their constant effort to deprive rights and liberties from others.

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