MASS COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY, 2006, 9(4), 461–483
Media Dissociation, Internet Use, and
Antiwar Political Participation:
A Case Study of Political Dissent and
Action Against the War in Iraq
School of Journalism & Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Department of Communication
College of Charleston
Department of Advertising/Public Relations
University of Georgia
Homero Gil de Zuniga and Dhavan Shah
School of Journalism & Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Media are thought to exert social control over dissenters by discouraging political expression and oppositional activities during periods of conflict. With the rise of the Internet, however, people play an increasingly active role in their media interactions, potentially reducing this media influence and increasing dissenters’ likelihood of speaking out and taking action. To understand what spurs some dissenters to become politically active, we conceptualize the perceived discrepancy between mainstream media portrayals and an individual’s own views as “media dissociation.” This study, then, explores if people who are alienated from mainstream media engage in information gathering and discussion via the Internet, and whether these Correspondence should be addressed to Hyunseo Hwang, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 5014 Vilas Communication Hall, 821 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org behaviors lead to political participation aimed at social change. A Web-based survey of political dissenters conducted during the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (N = 307) provides the case study data used to test relationships among media dissociation, Internet use, and antiwar activism. Structural equation modeling revealed that the more the individuals surveyed felt their views differed from mainstream media portrayals, the more motivated they were to use the Internet as an information source and discussion channel. These effects of media disassociation appear to be channeled through Internet behaviors, which then facilitate antiwar political action.
International conflicts, such as the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, present a unifying national crisis in which a majority of citizens “rally around the flag” and their leaders (Mueller, 1970). The media are seen as central agents in this process, aligning the public with elites through carefully constructed appeals by government officials (Entman, 2004; Powlick & Katz, 1998). In such situations, mass media can exert social control over “dissenters”—those who oppose positions advanced by political elites through the media—by reinforcing dominant views and reducing their willingness to speak up or act on their political beliefs (e.g., Luther & Miller, 2005; D. M. McLeod & Hertog, 1992, 1999; Noelle-Neumann, 1984). Many scholars have noted that the potential for social control is especially powerful when audiences depend heavily on mainstream mass media for information and this coverage lacks oppositional voices (Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976; Merskin, 1999). The degree and limits of press freedom when covering these issues remains in question (see Althaus, 2003), as does the extent to which the Internet contains oppositional perspectives. Dissenters who have access to media that contain alternative viewpoints, as many argue is the case with the Internet, should feel less constrained. Recent research has suggested that individuals who encounter media coverage adverse to their views may actively search for information over the Internet, taking advantage of the diversity of perspectives the Web offers to find points of view that are different from mainstream news sources and closer to their own views (Rainie, Fox, & Fallows, 2003). To understand the active role dissenters play in their interaction with media in a digital age, we examine...
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