The media shapes public perception about current events, but that doesn’t mean we all see or hear the same things. A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a platform for “studying media ecosystems” that reveals how news events are framed by media outlets around the world.
On how the Media Cloud works
“The Media Cloud is essentially a news analysis platform. It’s entirely open source, so anyone can use it. It was built by a group of researchers between the MIT Media Lab and the Harvard Berkman Klein Center. The platform allows you to ask important questions about, you know, the method behind the media’s madness, so things about attention, influence, framing. For example, if you wanted to know how much attention is which outlet paying to Kenya’s elections or foreign affairs in general. How is immigration framed the U.S. versus the U.K.? So questions like that, but not just for the U.S. media. We have about 25,000 different sources from over 120 countries. We’ll look at how they play different stories and the language they use to talk about those events, which, you know, the framing that’s used essentially plays a big role in how we understand the news.”
On analyzing three recent news events: the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the attack in New York and the mass shooting in Texas
“What you could do on the platform is you could put in search terms for each of those three events, and then you would hit the run button, and you’d basically get a set of results that looked at the stories and the language and so forth. What we see for the Las Vegas and Texas shooting is that murders and attempted murders is the top theme identified, while for the New York attack, we have terrorism as a key theme. So what that kind of points to is that for, you know, the Vegas and the Texas shooting, we tend to put it into this frame of isolated events that happened because the fringe elements of society, while something like terrorism is linked with these causative factors like religion and Islam and, you know, immigration.
“So for example, for the New York attack, if you look at the most frequently used words, you’d see terror, terrorist, immigration. But if you look at the other two, you see things like victims, shooter, weapons.”
On Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and whether Puerto Rico was forgotten in the media coverage
“So when we looked at the attention that the U.S. media gave these three, we saw that Harvey got about three times more coverage than Puerto Rico and Maria. And what’s interesting is, not just in the U.S., but when we looked at a collection of global English news sources, which was over 1,500 news outlets, we saw the same bias. What’s even more interesting is if we throw in the South Asia disasters that happened, the floods, Indian media itself also covered Harvey more than it covered any of the disasters in its own region.”
On coverage of the #MeToo campaign after the Harvey Weinstein allegations
“We found a trend that we actually see frequently in gender reporting, that the frame of reporting is very much focused on law and order and far less on social issues. So for example, when they were covering Harvey Weinstein, he was let off pretty easy. You know, there were no harsh words like ‘sex predator’ or any of that. The most negative word used for him on an average was ‘disgraced.’ So it kind of tells you that there’s a different treatment of the offender depending on who they are, their race, where they come from. A lot of the stories that we also saw were putting it — you know, we’re talking about different incidences and crimes that happened against women. Not so much about practices like gender inequality, and patriarchy, and preference of, you know, sons over daughters, for example, in places like Asia. So there was no connection to that, or the deep normative behavior that determines why something like sexual assault is so frequent.”
On the goals for the Media Cloud
“The point is very much to allow people to have a stronger tool to be able to analyze and reflect in the media, to try and make it a more civic and democratic tool to allow people to hold the media accountable for different things, to let nonprofits kind of design better media campaigns, activists to understand how they can put their agenda into the media. So the idea is to make it a healthy democratic tool.”