Audience and content are defined by each other

Any intellectual output has a strong human fingerprint all over it, even if produced by machines. This fingerprint can be made out of authorship, context, meaning, lots of things. It is relevant because it defines the roots of how content interacts with audiences, a process that is deeper than usually noted.

When audiences find the content they want, they see themselves as the proactive end, the masters of the interaction, those who have the free will to make their own choices. This is not true. The search is just a stage of a cultural process that creates identity, defines roles and wraps-up points of view, prejudices, biases and many other personality characteristics.

Audiences are not the active player when they are looking for content or when they decide to follow a particular publication or author. The match between reader and content is an event that sets up the place where they sit in the environment. The content has no meaning other than reaching the audience that consumes it, so, in this sense. The audience defines the content.

At the same time, the opposite process takes place. Audiences do not read the content they think is the best one. While searching, readers are trying to shape their own identity in the eyes of others, in the way they want to be seen. They are looking for a place where they want to be. They look for the approval of their peers and to perfect the self-image they have of themselves. The content defines the audience too.

Let’s put this to test: what do you say about a publication that has a target audience of older well-educated, wealthy, mostly male individuals? Is the answer “a conservative publication”? And if you have to guess the average profile of the Wall Street Journal? Could it be the description of the reader mentioned in the previous paragraph? There you go…

Why is this important to notice? Well, because when we talk about content reliability (i.e. the conditions that make a content NOT to be fake news), this is is the main process running. On a polarised environment, truth matters less, because citizens are not always looking for truth. Their reality becomes fragmented like a kaleidoscope image in the eyes of observers. Luring audiences eager to believe in something into these reality doppelgangers is really an easy task with the information bubbles created by algorithms.

Make no mistake: this is not about stupid Facebook brawls where Republicans and Democrats discuss urban legends only. Parents stop vaccinating their children. Vigilantes bear arms to “fight” migrants someone told them to be rapist killers. Anonymous enraged audiences, poisoned by tech-enabled lies architects go out to do the most obnoxious things. This is not an acquittal of any wrongdoing, but the exposure of a system that never stops working.

The interactive process between content and the public holds one of the biggest disinformation-tackling challenges. Theoretically, the massive majority of citizens intend to promote the greater good, no matter how much individual advantages they seek. This is the rule in normal times. Now, with all references blurred by polarisation and truth fragmentation, a great deal of the audience is barking at the wrong tree. Until we have a working system to stop the distortion, we will have a chance to fight back. Audience and content will still define each other, but at least everyone will be aware of where they are.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

About the author

Cassiano Gobbet My name is Cassiano and I am a Founder, developer, journalist and digital media specialist. Stories rule our life, even - or especially - when we don't realize it. My stories are built on the products I create, the code I produce and here, in text.