Apr 5, 2019 in Exploratory

Flow of Communication

Abstract

Paul Felix Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz proposed the two-step flow of communication model in 1940. It was a result of the research on the social impact during the presidential elections in the US in 1940. The study found two-step flow of information from the mass media to opinion leaders and from them to the rest of the population. It also demonstrated effectiveness of interpersonal influence on the formation of political views.

The hypothesis which argues that media ideas have an influence on opinion leaders and then on the less active people has been criticized in many subsequent studies. For example, Christoph Deutschmann and Gordon C. Danielson argued that information from the media has direct impact on people but is not transmitted through opinion leaders. In addition, the hypothesis of the two-step flow of information does not describe the learning process.

Thus, the two-step model is based on the hypothesis that individuals have different social roles in the process of mass communication. Non-linear two-stage structuring of the mass information flow stimulated further theoretical modeling of communication processes and empirical verification of these models.

Key words: two-step flow of communication theory, mass media, opinion leader, mass communication, co-orientation theory, diffusion of innovations theory, theory of reinforcement, Egypt media space. 

The Alternative Media Communication Theories

The phenomenon of communication attracted attention of specialists in the spheres of philosophy, cultural studies, and sociology among others. Mass communication research is tending to study communicative situations on a global and local scale in order to determine social, cultural, and political trends and implications as well as forecasts of their development. 

The postulate of the two-step model of ‘indirect’ media influence allows to adjust the activity of the mass media. It has become apparent that it is possible to influence a clearly defined group more profoundly. However, the theory was questioned by other sociological researches. 

In the 21st century, the society has reached a high level of development, and the theory of two-step flow of commucniation is not relevant in the present days. People act due to their status, individual communication abilities, and regular contacts with newspapers and radio. The impact of mass communication is not always straight and direct. Rather, it goes through mediation gateways and social environment. Some part of the population is active in perception and transmission of knowledge and values that come from the media. Inert members often turn to informal sources or messages transmitted by reference group's leaders. There are different scientific points of view on this process. 

McLeod and Chaffee’s Co-Orientation Theory

In the article “Whose Accuracy, Whose Congruency, and Whose Agreement? Variations on the Theme of Coorientation,” David L. Ritchie analyses the communicative theory proposed by Jake McLeod and Steven Chaffee. According to Ritchie, Jake McLeod and Steven Chaffee found a new way to interpret the idea of consistency of information transmitted in verbal and nonverbal manner and cognitive balance. They proposed a model of co-orientation, which explains that the public acquires knowledge of the problem on the basis of their experience, elite sources, and media. Appeal to the mass media is important in a situation of tension between the elite and the public, where each of them tries to control the mass media. 

David L. Ritchie pays special attention to the components of co-orientation theory. This theory describes a situation in which two (or more) individuals or groups are interacting by defending their opinion or demonstrating their knowledge about the subject. Opinion changes are reflected in three variables that are components of the model: accuracy, agreement, and congruence. Accuracy is the level in which the first group understands the ideas of the second group. Traditionally, accuracy is the main criterion for interaction quality assessment. The understanding means that, after the dialogue, both sides can understand each other's views, not necessarily agreeing to them. If members of a group work effectively side by side, people will learn and understand the needs and perspectives of each other. Agreement is a level of mutual sharing of opinions expressed by both groups. Agreement is a fundamental relationship in communicative interactions. Congruence is the perception of a disagreement or agreement. High congruence, or ethnocentrism, is established when one group thinks that another group has similar beliefs or behaves similarly. Conversely, low congruence, or polarization, arises from the lack of common views when the groups do not share any common views or behaviors. David L. Ritchie argues that coorientation components should be considered only in conjunction with the objectives of the interacting parties.

Thus, it can be concluded that the theory of co-orientation is valid. However, when examining it, one should pay attention to the fact that the individual orientation, which is underlying the guidelines, is determined by characters and circumstances of life. In addition, an important role is played by human experience, social group membership as well as political and social organization. 

E. M. Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Theory

In his article "A Summary of Diffusion of Innovations," Les Robinson makes a detailed analysis of the diffusion of innovations theory. According to Les Robinson, Everett M. Rogers in the “Diffusion of Innovations” explains diffusion as a process by which innovation is spreading in the society through communication channels at a specified time. Les Robinson argued that Roggers reduced the role of the media to a minimum and claims that they are used to inform about the innovations. Only the first users are under a direct influence of media content. The rest take a novelty adopted only under the influence of others. 

The author analyzes Rogers’s approach to innovation spreading, which may have planned or spontaneous character. In any case, it leads to social changes, e.g. changes in the structure and functions of the social system. Everett M. Rogers criticizes the two-step flow of communication theory by giving an example of a study in which two-thirds of respondents indicated that their primary means of information distribution is the media, not interpersonal communication. Rogers distinguishes five categories of people depending on their adoption of innovations: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. According to Les Robinson, innovators are visionary, imaginative innovators. Early adopters are greedy, and they leap in when the benefits start to become apparent. As innovation spreads from the early adopters to majority audiences, face-to-face communication, therefore, becomes more essential in the decision to adopt (Robinson). Les Robison states, that there are several stages of diffusion in Everet’s theory: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation, and he provides commercial tips to deal with various categories.

The author of the article pays special attention to the defussion of innovation as a marketing and promoution technology. Les Robinson states that an effective tool for proliferation of innovations is the media. With the appearance of the Internet, information about innovations can spread more rapidly than ever before in the human history. In addition, the Internet is changing the very nature of diffusion by reducing the importance of physical distance between people. Thus, the theory of diffusion is valid and practical not only in the field of mass communications but also advertising and marketing. 

J. T. Klapper’s Theory of Reinforcement

In his article “What We Know about the Effects of Mass Communication: The Brink of Hope,” Joseph T. Klapper, a founder of the phenomenological theory, makes a few critical remarks on his researches.

In the article, Joseph T. Klapper expressed concerns that an average person exaggerates the power of the media. Despite the fact that many scientists (mostly empiricists) rejected the theory of mass society, many people still believe that the media have tremendous power. He shows how limited is the fact of the media’s ability to influence people. Klapper suggests that the media rarely affects their audience directly. They are relatively powerless in comparison with the other social and psychological factors, such as social status, group affiliation, education, etc. Thus, mass communication is not usually a necessary and sufficient cause of impact on the audience, but it rather acts through the chain of mediation factors and influences. These mediation factors make mass communication one of the constituent agents but not the only cause in the process of existing conditions strengthening. According to Klapper, the media stimuli are thoroughly sifted and molded, and they serve, typacilly, as grist for the existing mill.

Klapper's theory is often called the theory of reinforcement as its key message is that the media generally increase (no change) existing guidelines and patterns of human behavior. Mass media do not undermine the social fabric but rather act as agents of the status quo giving people more reason for continuing believing and doing what they are already doing. For example, he stated that the radio is the “energizing agent or implementer of tendencies otherwise engendered”. He also asserted that there were numerous barriers before the media, so they could not cause a fundamental change except in very extreme conditions.

It can be concluded that these ideas were quite reliable in their time. However, today, they require rethinking, especially in terms of the impact of media on children. At the same time, it increased the power of the media, since they quickly adjust to individual tastes and interests.

Mass Communication Theories with Regard to Egypt Media Space

The Arab Republic of Egypt is the largest and one of the most influential countries of the Arab East. Egypt's involvement in various international processes, activity and quality of its diplomacy, favorable geopolitical position, the presence of abundant natural and human resources, and the most powerful army in the Arab world make it an important actor in international relations. Social and political processes in Egypt can significantly influence the situation not only in the Arab world but also in the neighboring regions.

In 2011, Egypt faced a revolution, the basic requirements of which were the resignation of the president Hosni Mubarak, who held the position for more than 30 years, and constitutional reform. Not all Egyptians are literate, and the Internet in Egypt is not too common as well, but the media gave way to flexible and operative social networks and cellular communication in today's world. This idea is confirmed by the statement of Alex Nunns, the author of the book Tweets from Tahrir, for France24.com.: “On television, we could not feel the dynamics of what is happening. Therefore, we decided to follow the activists on Twitter.”

 

Protesters in Egypt were coordinating their actions through social networks including page created by the Middle East Branch Google top manager Wael Ghonim. At the beginning of the protest movement, the Egyptians lost access to Twitter and Facebook. CNN reported that, despite the fact that the government blocked the Internet, the pages of Twitter and Facebook devoted to protests on Friday, January 28 increased the number of their followers from 20,000 to 80,000. Meanwhile, in response to the Internet blockade, Google has created a new opportunity to post messages on Twitter through phone calls. Then disruption of mobile communication started at once.

The Ministry of Information of the country also canceled a license to broadcast channel Al-Jazeera and Arabica TV, which actively broadcasted the protests online. However, the media blocking did not stop protesters in their actions and coordination. 

This fact proves that, in today's world, the transmission of information via personal communication takes more important place than through the media. Moreover, in Egypt, where the powers established strict censorship and suppressed any anti-government speeches, spreading the calls for revolution through the media seems unlikely.

It seems that, during the revolutionary events of 2011-2013, the theory of diffusion of innovations proposed by Rogers is evident. This can be proved by statements of one of the critics of the current government, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the former head of the IAEA, Mohamed El Baradei, in BBC: “The head of the actions for requirements for changes are not poor, not impoverished, not marginalized or religious people, but educated youth who is familiar with technological innovations, use Facebook and Twitter. When a population has no political representation, when the state economy is closed to them and controlled by those in power, an explosion of anger comes sooner or later.” In theory of diffusion of innovation terms, Mr. El Baradei spoke of the innovators and early adapters. 

The second problem relates to feminism in the Egyptian media space. Due to the development of information and communication technologies, Arab women have access to the blogosphere, the media, and social networks. Today, they actively use them to fight for their rights. The emergence of satellite television has provided another chance to attract the attention to the problem of Arabian gender inequality. Thus, the Qatari channel Al Jazeera has created a special program “For Women Only,” in which eminent women with higher education from all the Arab countries had an opportunity to express their opinion on critical social, political, scientific, and environmental issues. After three years, the show was closed in 2005 without any reasons. In 2006, Al Jazeera launched a new transmission called “Every Woman,” which investigated various topics related to religion, society, education, and art from a female point of view. In 2009, the Egyptian ‘Nile-Sat’ aired a TV channel for women ‘EVE’, in which the discussions were held on the role of Arab women in politics, society, and business. In 2011-2015, many participants of demonstrations in Tahrir Square were surprised that, for the participation in legitimate political protest, they have recorded in the category of ‘feminists and prostitutes’, which is almost the same in the eyes of many Egyptians. The reason lies in the fact that Tahrir women spent much time alongside male demonstrators. In 2011, Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces shockingly abused Egyptian women sexually, physically, and emotionallyl, and it is impossible to forget. On December 18, 2011, the world media published a terrible video, in which the Egyptian soldiers of during hard a peaceful sit-in protest action beat a woman in burqa and tore her clothes. This caused a flurry of feminism. One feminist posted online those candid photos to demonstrate women’s freedom. This provoked a heated discussion in social networks. Some considered the publication of photos as a progressive and courageous act, whereas the others said that it is unacceptable and anti-religious. Some other people were afraid that it might affect the image of the revolutionaries.

This example confirms diffusion of innovation theory. The society received knowledge of the problem of women harassment in the Muslim world. Some women convinced others of the need to support feminists and decided to conduct the protest. Women realized their plans and received confirmation in the form of community response and the media.

The third example concerns the recent cultural scandal in Egypt. Authorities of Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt have ordered a statue of Queen Nefertiti’s bust to be put at the entrance to the city Samalut in order to attract tourists. However, they reserved a huge, deformed, pale yellow, eared, stone statue. The users of social networks instantly published photos of the horrible work on the Internet describing it as ‘insulting and shameful’ and compared it with Frankenstein’s monster. The sculpture provoked international reaction. Jonathan Jones, a famous critic of the newspaper The Guardian, called to fight the anti-aesthetic art and hack conducted by government subsidies. The authorities of Salamut were forced to take down a giant ‘copy’ of the Queen Nefertiti's bust.

This example illustrates the theory that the media play a reinforcement role. Social attitudes play an important role, but citizenship alone is capable to organize via social networks and influence on authorities’ decisions.

Thus, two-stage theory of communication is inferior to the newer theories, which pay less attention to the media but more attention to interpersonal communication. There are alternative theories, which evaluate media space from another perspective. McLeod and Chaffee’s co-orientation theory argues that the communication between the media, elite, and public consists of three components: accuracy, agreement, and congruence. Rogers’s diffusion of innovations theory includes five groups of mass-communication participents: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Klapper’s reinforcement theory states that the media have a significant impact on public opinion but only reinforce it.

The investigation shows that the Egyptian media give way to social networks, which are a place for people who become innovators and newsmakers themselves. They often shape public opinion. In part, news agencies perform only the role of support for civil society activists in political, social, and cultural actions. The diffusion of innovation theory is the most relevant for this country.

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