The mainstream media is creating a lasting and damaging impact on how Americans define freedom. Some official news sources are becoming no more reliable than your Instagram or Facebook feed and Americans are so caught up in their differences to care. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a front row seat to the media we consume, causing an irreversible divide in our nation’s beliefs.

This past year we have seen how the word “freedom” itself has been morphed into a term used for selfish personal beliefs to prevail instead of a global health crisis being averted with any grace in the United States. People are seen abusing the word freedom to justify endangering the lives of those around them, supporting racist policies, in their own ignorance to the deeply rooted horrors of America’s systems. What a privileged take on a word that was supposed to stand for equality, new beginnings, the ability to think freely without unfair reprimands.

Some media allows people in power to warp the meaning of the word freedom, and citizens who look to those in power for guidance fall into a never-ending cycle of misinformation that is shaped to fit political narratives instead of factual information

Throughout American history the word freedom has taken on a lot of different meanings. When the country was starting out, freedom meant being able to live by our own rules, to have democracy. Later freedom was applied to the plight of slavery, freeing people from literal chains and being considered less than human. We have fought wars over what freedom means to this country, and far too often there have been wars waged by the privileged.

There is a history of real oppression in this country that is spelled out by indigenous and POC Americans, but covered up by the whitewashing of our history. That has given white people in this country a false sense of what oppression really is or feels like, and therefore has aided in creating ignorant ideas of what freedom means.

With misinformation about the roots of freedom in America running rampant in our history, of course we have ended up making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to public safety. The media platforms that have gained American trust over the past few decades have created an opportunity for that media to create chaos through misinformation. While the media and politicians of our country have the American public pointing fingers at one another and causing people to choose selfishness and fear over public safety, the true value of freedom is being thrown down the toilet.

So how does this happen? How are people so convinced that their personal beliefs are backed up by hard facts, statistics, and science? Well for one, some of the news sources we are supposed to be able to rely on for information and world views have been politicized to a point where there is almost no common ground between far right and far left. News channels having different headlines for an issue that affects the entire country is not something new to the 2020 election or the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been going on for years. 

Harvard Political Review was reporting the polarization of cable news in 2014 when Barack Obama was the hot new topic to mold. The article talks about how the political leanings of Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN caused different reactions from each set of viewers because of how they each portrayed topics differently. 

In all the discomfort and unrest throughout America over the past year, people surprisingly refuse to question why everyone can be so divided on such a life or death issue. To me there is only one answer, that too many people have faith in their media consumption. One of the biggest arguments that Right Wing media has created recently to convince people they are justified in their ignorance, is claiming that it is an infringement on “personal freedom” to wear masks. That is giving people a false reassurance that harmful opinions are factual, and this has created a group of people that has complete faith in their own media, while they cast away all other sources without a second thought. 

It is important to take a look at how the media has the disturbing power to impact the livelihood of an entire country just by abusing the meaning of one word. Freedom has been turned into a weapon for selfishness and division instead of a call for unity and equality. This should not be ignored as we continue to march toward an irreversible rift in this country. 

Whitney Durgin is a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, and this piece was written as part of coursework in Incarceration Nation class.


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