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Theorists have different approaches to understanding the power of media and how people engage with media, including the hypodermic needle theory, the active audience and minimal effects theories, and interpretive strategies and the interpretive communities theory. Sociologists also study the power of media conglomerates, which control the vast majority of media platforms in the United States. They consider the relationship of media and culture, particularly popular culture. People's consumption and interpretation of media are often influenced by their social identity. Media are agents of socialization and contribute to or reinforce social stratification. Other topics related to the influence of media in culture include consumerism, confirmation bias, and the spread of echo chambers.

At A Glance

  • Media convey information, spread messages and ideas, and connect individuals and social groups.
  • Mass media have the potential to bring social benefits but also have the power to increase inequalities and manipulate large numbers of people.
  • Media conglomerates are powerful social forces, able to control the messages that are communicated to and among members of society.
  • Media companies often use sensationalism to attract audiences and advertisers, which can result in the spread of inaccurate messages.
  • The power elite model sees media as dominated by a small group of individuals who wield power in society and are thus able to make their interests take priority.
  • The hypodermic needle theory assumes that the media is a powerful force and that individuals play no role in how the media affects them.
  • The active audience and minimal effect theories argue that media consumers have agency.
  • Interpretive strategies and interpretive communities theory hold that consumers interpret content in unique and different ways, creating meaning through interpretation.
  • Popular culture is associated with a mass audience and is often contrasted with high culture, which is consumed by an elite audience.
  • Popular culture is relatively fluid and is tied to trends, consumer goods, and commercial products.