Episode 13 - Dr. Erik Nisbet: International Conflict and Social Identity: The Influence of Mass Media on "Us vs. Them" Thinking

Monday, February 09, 2009, 12:29:09 PM

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Dr. Erik Nisbet discusses how perceptions of international conflict and terrorism across national contexts are shaped by the interplay of mass media frames and social identity schema. Dr. Nisbet describes the parallel processes that occur in the United States and the Muslim world.

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Average Rating: 4.6 stars (7 listener reviews )

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Average Rating: 5stars  the influence of mass media on "us vs. them" thinking, Thursday, February 17, 2011

By KaleighM :

I think that Dr. Nisbet provides very powerful insight into the media frenzy surrounding the U.S. War on Terror and the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality. So often, masses are consumed by information fed to them by mass-media outlets and choose not to question where the message is actually coming from. When listening to the 6 o’clock news, we assume that we are being presented the truth due to the strong reputation many large media corporations reflect. What is not known to most ‘consumers’ is that larger corporations, and government officials, are working in tandem with media outlets to project a situation in a specific and strategic way. This has particular implications on the American population due to the ‘parallel process’ happening at the same time in Arab and Muslim countries as well.
After listening to this podcast, it became quite clear why masses in the U.S. have had such an unfavorable attitude towards Arab and Muslim populations. As Dr. Nisbet stated, so few of the U.S. population is made up of people from Arab or Muslim countries, and yet the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality is consistently reflected. I was surprised by the number of American citizen who voted to impose several different oppressive stipulations for any Muslim person currently living within the U.S. I think, what is most important for us, as social workers, is to continually educate and update ourselves on cultural competence and remain impartial throughout the process of working with diverse populations. This begins with staying clear from mainstream media as our formal source of information.

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Average Rating: 5stars  media impact on perception, Tuesday, February 08, 2011

By Katrina B :

This podcast by Dr. Nisbet was very interesting to listen to. The power of media in our society not always taken as seriously as it maybe should be. Especially as the breadth of media expands around the world, and availability increases exponentially. There is an immense amount of subjectivity and sway by any given radio station, news television show, and even individual people posting on Youtube and other social media websites. This subjectivity is mistaken for fact and/or public opinion of all Americans on too many occasions. It is imperative that we, as social workers, do our best to increase transparency, decrease negative cues that are broadcast to other countries, and explain that not ALL Muslims, but select terrorist are being targeted. Perception is key and if perception continues to be that "we" are different than "them" versus the fact that we have many commonalities, international conflict will continue indefinitely.

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Average Rating: 4stars  media: the good, bad and ugly "truths", Monday, April 05, 2010

By wendy :

The media plays a very important part in our ideas and thoughts. In the case example Dr. Nisbet discusses the influence of the media on our thoughts about Muslims. I have to agree that much of what I "think" about Muslims is based on what I have seen on television or read in the papers. Since I have very little opportunity to interact with this population, I often rely on what is presented by the media to give me knowledge about a situation that is occurring.

Dr. Nisbet highlights that this can be very negative and actually continues to promote a negative hostile type of relationship between Americans and Muslims. He also very eloquently points out that the Muslim media does the same in an opposite manner: Muslims learn about Americans from their media sources which promotes their feelings of negativity towards us. This continues to perpetuate a cycle of conflict and hate. Teaching first ourselves and then our children how to be critical thinkers in regards to information presented by the media is the beginning step towards not allowing ourselves to be completely influenced by the information and perception the media chooses to share with us. Understanding that the example of the Muslim/American skewed image is only one of many will help us begin to realize the magnitude of this issue. After listening to this podcast and reading some newspaper articles about people and situations I had first hand knowledge of that were not accurately portrayed, I have become more critical and discerning when reading or hearing information that comes from different media sources.

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Average Rating: 5stars  "us vs. them", Saturday, April 03, 2010

By Michele M :

Dr. Nisbet's podcast discussion about international conflict and how it can be shaped by mass media is a very interesting and important concept considering the current international relations around the world. Another reviewer of this podcast states that, "As professionals we need not think of only the negative influences of the global media, [instead] we to learn how to use the the media, positively, to influence public and policymakers to advocate for social justice". In a perfect world, I would like to think that we could convince the media as a whole to be part of the movement in advocating for social justice. However, this seems like an impossible (or at the very least, a very difficult) task because the motives of those who "own" the media are based on profit. I would HIGHLY recommend taking a look at this clip from the documentary "The Corporation" ( The clip is about 10 minutes, but well-worth it to understand the forces against the good-will of social workers and others trying to advocate for a less slanted mass media.

We talk about micro, mezzo, and macro influences within the context of social work. As far as a macro influence on individuals, families, and communities; it is important to realize the motivations underlying some of the larger macro issues (such as the motivation for a new station to portray a population or country in a negative way in order to gain something from it). As social workers, we tend to focus on a strengths-based approach and we try to see the positive in people. However, this seems like a small flaw; we need to be able to step back and also see the negative. I would suggest that if we can see the negative (as well as the positive) in people, this insight would help us to advocate for real change.

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Average Rating: 4stars  review of podcast 13, Saturday, March 27, 2010

By MJ :

The media plays a huge role in forming a person’s perceptions of foreign countries. This podcast focused on the conflicts between the US and the Muslim world and what role the media has played. The podcast also highlighted the importance of an individual’s identity and how the media can shape it; along with ideas for combating conflict through commonalities.

Our identity tells us who we are. Identity formation no matter what religion or culture an individual belongs to is a key component of a person. However, our perceptions of us vs. them are usually based on very little social interaction. Almost all information that makes up our opinions is based on media (TV, Radio, Internet, Newspapers, etc.) Dr. Nisbet’s discussion helped to point out the importance of personally questioning in what ways the media shaped your perceptions of cultures, countries, and ethnicities and what stereotypes have you retained due to the media’s influences.

In most cases the more education an individual has, the more tolerance they have for individuals that they perceive to be different from them. According to Dr. Nisbet, Evangelical Christians’ (which make up approximately 33% of the population) perceptions are indifferent; no matter how much factual information is presented will not influence them to become more tolerate of Islam. Therefore, the focus should be on creating experiences and messages that stress their commonalities. Highlighting cultural and political similarities have been found to increase social tolerance. Finding similarities and common ground is a staple in social work practice. As Dr. Nisbet stresses finding common ground between individuals or groups when foreign conflict is being addressed may be they only way to move forward in order to resolve the conflict. I also feel in order to have power over the influences of media an individual has to be actively involved in educating themselves on all sides of a foreign conflict.

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Average Rating: 5stars  important topic often overlooked., Monday, January 25, 2010

By Caitlin N. :

Dr. Nisbet covers a variety of issues that are relevant when looking at the different perceptions and misconceptions between American and Muslim worlds. He gives an insightful explanation of how the media's influence shapes these perceptions and the dangers that are associated with this phenomenon. He discusses the reasons why we are so heavily influenced by our media but does so without using judgment or blame. Dr. Nisbet used the example of Sept. 11th and asked "what resources do we have as individuals to make sense of this?" It is human nature to make sense of the phenomena that occurs around us and often the media is our only source. I thought his analysis of existential, or transcendental threats gave an interesting perspective. Dr. Nisbet suggests that the reason Americans feel so threatened by the Muslim world is because they feel it poses a threat to our values, culture and religious beliefs, or in other words, a threat to our identity. His reasoning makes it understandable why people feel so threatened by this population, but goes on to discuss why how these feelings often arise from misconceptions. He suggests that these threats are not actually as most Americans perceive it, and the perceived differences that make us generate negative feelings about the other population are actually not as great as many people believe. I appreciated that he ended the discussion talking about possible solutions to this great divide including education and focusing on our similarities rather than our differences. Dr. Nisbet gives an interesting perspective on a topic that is relevant in the world today.

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Average Rating: 4stars  global media, Monday, January 18, 2010

By Gena Huber :

I liked how Dr. Nisbet drew parallels between the Muslim and American press. The American press has shown how the Muslim world negatively promotes American culture, yet it does not illustrate how promoting this has the same effect.
As professionals we need not think of only the negative influences of the global media, insead we to learn how to use the the media, positively, to influence public and policymakers to advocate for social justice.

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