The beginning of 21st century was determined by the various political and social transformations at the global level. Perhaps, one of the major transformations at the global scale was digital media technology, which became the cornerstone of globalization. The word globalization refers to the political, economic and social integration at the global level as result of digital technology. In this regard, media sector across the globe has transformed at the greater scale due to rapid flow information through integrated channels. Perhaps, this marked the beginning of the information and digital age simultaneously. Across the developed west, specifically in the United States the dawn of digital age was smeared by the appearance of misinformation and propaganda, which has raised questions surrounding the informed citizenship.
Basically, it was the dawn of liberal democracy across the west, which has made media as the fourth pillar of the modern state system. Moreover, the liberal democracy literally refers to the set of values and ideals which protects the basic human rights, civil liberties and citizenship. Similarly, within democracy it is media, which is playing a central role in educating and informing the public about their rights and responsibilities of a citizen. Likewise, it is media which is promoting the democratic ideals and ensuring the accountability and transparency of the government before the public. In this respect, the concept of informed citizenship emerged as a major political discourse during the middle of the twentieth century because of the tremendous transformation in mass communication. Moreover, since the dawn of 20th century, media has become a platform for public debate and discussion which is often known as ‘civic education’ which is indeed one of the foundation of modern democracies.
As a matter of fact, for the establishment of the vibrant political culture within democracies, the concept of informed citizenship is central because it shapes the public opinion and determines the public policy making discourse. Moreover, it is mass communication in the form of TV, newspapers, radio, magazines and internet, which is contributing in civic education and hence, gives birth to informed citizenship. Although, I agree that in our age media is playing a central in shaping public opinion and in policy making but at the same time media is also major responsible for political polarization and misinformation. For instance, in our time the terms like misinformation and conspiracy theories are popular patterns of modern media discourse,which ignite political polarization and chaos.
Basically, the term conspiracy theory and misinformation is the legacy of the cold war, because it was the global competition between the two super powers Soviet Union and the United States that has overturned the dynamics of information flow through media technology. In the Soviet Union, all the media sources including Television channels and newspapers agencies were government owned. In this respect, the patterns of the flow of information was based on government guidelines, in which the newspapers and news channels were required to filter the information as per government guidelines. In the latter context, it was the issue of authenticity of the information, which has raised question about the reliability and the existence of the news source. Moreover, the fact cannot be denied that the condition of news information was pathetic because media was not permitted to criticize the leadership or government.
Similarly, in the U.S., although media was free but there were major issues connected concerning the validity of the information. For instance, if we want to understand the context of psychological and sociological fears and threats from the conspiracy theories then we have to briefly study the brutal McCarthian Age of 1960s. Basically, it was the reign of terror initiated by the McCarthian Age during the height of the US-Soviet rivalry that has brought the discourse of Conspiracy theories and misinformation at the center of Media studies. The word McCarthian Age refers to well a cherished anti-Soviet hysteria prompted by then malicious senator John Mccarthy to prosecute the soviet sympathizers and supporters inside the U.S.
On the contrary, the exact discourse of the conspiracy theories and misinformation were brought to the center of global sociological and political discourse in the 1980s and 1990s. The word conspiracy theory and misinformation refers to the socio-political and psychological propaganda that played a key in dichotomizing the patterns of the information flow by concealing the actual truth. Moreover, the whole discourse of the conspiracy theory is based on the authenticity and durability of the information flow. Likewise, in the recent years, the mysterious death and high profile assassination of the powerful personalities and superstars were subjected to misinformation and Conspiracy theories. Starting from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, mysterious death of Lady Diana in Car accident, to the speculation of the event of 9/11 as an insider Job, the word ‘Conspiracy Theory’ gained enormous popularity across media and public circles. Today, the rapid development in the information technology is polluting the essence and existence of information, which has become a major threat to democracy and informed citizenship.
In the latter context, if we examine the academic literature concerning the threat posed by misinformation to informed citizenship and democracy then it can be understood in two major domains. First and foremost, the epistemological domain which stresses on the empirical study of the conspiracy theories and misinformation. Moreover, the major aim of the epistemological study of the conspiracy theories is crucial to dig out the authenticity of the information sources. Likewise, when it comes to the literature of the conspiracy theories, researcher often prefer the epistemological investigation in order explain the literary and philosophical context of the conspiracy theories. Secondly, the sociological and psychological study and examination of the conspiracy theories. Basically, in the context of psychology, researchers often use the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud to explain the psychological basis of the conspiracy theories. Likewise, in the domain of sociology, researcher briefly investigate the sociological impact of the fake news that often creates the polarized environment of fear and terror in most cases such as the US election of 2016.
Perhaps, the polarized political situation during the 2016 election has exposed the lack of civic education in America and uninformed citizenship. Perhaps, the major reason behind the political chaos in 2016 U.S. elections was the result of unawareness about basic scientific knowledge, American history and the lack of civic education. Moreover, it was the negative role of media specifically social media that has changed the dynamics of voting and elections in 2016. Likewise, the feeble education system is also responsible for the lack of basic education about politics, democracy and voting during the elections. According to reports, majority of youth aged 18-21 were confused about voting during the 2016 elections because of the polarized political debate across public sphere. According to report published in 2010 by ‘The Atlantic’ has briefly exposed patterns of informed citizenship in America. The report has presented the following findings.
1. American know more about the Michael Jackson and his composer than about the first ten Amendments of the American constitution, which deals with the civil rights.
2. According to the survey conducts 30% of the respondents answered incorrectly about the American independence, the 1812 war, American civil war and emancipation proclamation.
3. More than third of the Americans were unaware that the right to trial by jury was guaranteed by the bill of Rights.
In contrast, the fact cannot be denied it was the lack of basic education and polarized media coverage during the 2016 elections, which has fomented political controversy regarding 2016 election results in the U.S. Although, media in America plays a central role in shaping public opinion but the role of media during the 2016 presidential elections remained odd and controversial. Perhaps, the American founding father James Madison had explained the current dilemma 200 years ago when he said; “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives”. In a nut shell, the founding father has stressed on the informed citizenship in the public discourse and warned about consequences of misinformation.