Tarde has the idea that the development of communication tools from the invention of printing to newspapers, telegraph, etc. implemented as the development of increasingly advanced means of mass suggestion. One consequence of this process was the emergence of the newest stories a new, previously non-existent phenomenon - public opinion. Tarde believes (surprisingly for modern man) that in medieval Europe there was no consensus, because in small communities not united by the mass media, there were only single or fragmentary opinions and judgments, each of which was truly suffered and weighted. Later, when books appear, and then newspapers and magazines, it becomes possible to replicate ideas, opinions, and judgments, so that opinions that existed earlier in the form of fragments are combined.
Tarde believes that the opinion expressed by an individual becomes public, and then a thousandfold replicated, supplemented, corrected in the opinions of other people. It seems to be revisited and ruled until it acquires the appearance of a well-established, generally accepted view.
Tarde writes about two stages in the development of communication. The first is completed by the creation of writing, books and theater. The second is the advent of the press and the media in general. Moreover, each type of communication media forms its own type of mass. So verbal communication through conversation generates crowds. Written, printed, according to Tard, forms the public. Moreover, communication determines the type of leader. And if the crowd has leaders or “leaders,” as Lebon calls them, then the public has a new type of leader — a politician and publicist.
When a press appears, it surpasses all that existed before it in the strength and mass character of its action. If oral speech can affect hundreds, at most, thousands of people, introducing them into a hypnotic trance, then with the help of the printed word, this can be done with tens of millions of people.
Tarde writes: “... through all this diversity, something like a general law is seen: this is an ever-increasing gap between the number of leaders and the number of followers: 20 speakers or leaders of gentes (births - Latin) in ancient times ruled the city as 2000 citizens, by the way , the ratio of 1 to 100. And nowadays 20 journalists, sold or bought, sometimes manage 40 by millions of people; ratio of 1 to 200 000 ″ (quoted in Muscovite C, 1996, p. 251).
Journalists, therefore, according to Tard, are also hypnotist leaders. With the help of the media, they mass people, make each a member of an invisible, dispersed mass. The press replicates patterns of beliefs, beliefs, fashion, imposes opinions, inspires thoughts. It replicates and imposes behavior, and even lifestyle. Thoughts, words, actions of people, thanks to the media, are becoming universal, massive.
The most dramatic confirmation of this conclusion by the psychology of the masses is found in modern history, in cases of the so-called “Werther phenomenon”. It's about how widespread media coverage of suicide generates a wave of imitative suicides. The concept of "Werther's phenomenon" was introduced into social psychology by an American researcher David Phillips, who took the title from Johann von Goethe's book The Suffering of Young Werther. This book, where the protagonist Werther commits suicide, had a tremendous impact on readers. So huge that it caused a wave of suicides throughout Europe.
D. Phillips, studying suicide statistics in the US from 1947 to 1968, found that after publishing a story about suicide on the pages of newspapers over the next two months, suicide took place on 58 more cases than usual. R. Cialdini notes in this connection that every message of suicide killed 58 people who could continue to live (Cialdini R., 1999).
Phillips also found that the trend for suicide growth was mainly observed in the region where the initial case of self-killing was widely reported in the press. Moreover, such a pattern was manifested: the wider the publicity of suicide was, the greater was the number of subsequent imitative suicides. It is the imitative nature of suicide that should be emphasized, since the suicides that followed the publication were mainly committed by people who were at least similar to the suicide reported in the media - by age, sex, social group, etc. Thus, on the basis of the “Werther phenomenon” discovered by him, Phillips revealed a sad tendency: after the publication of information about suicide, certain people who look like suicides kill themselves only on the grounds that they begin to consider the idea of suicide to be completely “legitimate” "," Normal "- because so do others, the same as he. Here we once again see confirmation of the action of both G. Tard’s law of imitation and his joint conclusion with Le Baron concerning the enormous pernicious influence of the media.
As a result of the activity of the media, mass culture and mass society arose, in modern terms. If in small communities of the past, Tarde believes, voices and opinions were weighed, in a mass society the votes are counted. The press thus led to the power of quantity, to the power of the masses, to the weakening of the influence of the intellect.
There are significant differences in the mechanisms of influence on the crowd and on the public. In a crowd gathered in one place, physical suggestion is carried out. Here the main role is played by the physical proximity of people: eye contact, bodies, voice sounds, breathing, smells, arousal transmitted through all, both verbal and non-verbal, communication channels. In short, a physical, literally, infection occurs in a crowd.
The media use purely psychological, mentalistic means of influence, creating common feelings, thoughts and opinions at a distance. And although sensory contamination in a crowd is more intense than the mental one with the public, public opinion can sometimes be more stable than the mood of the crowd. Although, on the other hand, Tarde especially emphasizes that the opinions of the public are also quite mobile and changeable. Based on this, he was the first to express the idea of the necessity and possibility of research and the study of public opinion.
One of the factors contributing to the public's suggestibility is that the reader (and, we add, the listener and the viewer) is inspired and fascinated by the fact that at the same time hundreds of thousands or millions of other people are being read, listened to or watched, although he does not see and does not feel the presence of those who are affected by the media.
In addition, in a mass society, an individual is attracted by the opportunity to hold the same “like everyone else's” opinion, that is, not to have one’s own. It is enough to recall how we, in disputes, consider the argument to be the most weighty, that we do not speak out on our own behalf, do not communicate our opinion, but declare “on behalf of”. If there is support for the opinion of others, then a person begins to believe in his absolute rightness - after all, that's what everyone thinks. This is enough to feel complete confidence and consider yourself to be the bearer of ultimate truth. Let us once again recall the words of G. Lebon: in the mass, not the truth wins, but the majority.
It is important to note that the media form a habit or dependence similar to narcotic among consumers of their products (the public - according to Tardu). The beginning of this process put the press. Later, with the advent of radio and television (and today, with good reason, we can talk about the Internet), the process of forming public dependence on the media went more intensively and became more efficient. Modern media also form their masses, but the masses of a special kind. The members of these masses are divided, they do not form physical crowds, their connection is purely psychological. Therefore, such masses can be called psychological masses.
The man of mass society has lost the ability and need to develop his own opinion, to form his own attitudes. He is waiting for others to do it for him and for him. Then, ready-made opinions, thoughts, standards, and even cliché emotions, desires and needs are acquired by him through the media in the same way as other consumer goods are acquired. Moreover, the individual perceives and uses them as his own thoughts, opinions, attitudes, feelings and needs.
Thus, the media become the rulers of the "minds", a source of opinions, which are then expressed as a mass opinion. Therefore, Tarde considers, at first the power is owned by the media, but then the media begins to wield power. In mass society, therefore, the media gradually begins to take the place of traditional leaders. This is how G. Lebon describes this situation: “Newspapers run public opinion in the United States, but they themselves are managed by several financiers who send journalism from their offices. Their power is more destructive than the power of the most evil tyrants, because, firstly, it is nameless, and, secondly, because they are guided only by personal interests alien to the interests of the country ”(G. Lebon, 1995, p. 115). As an example of such an influence of the press, Lebon points out that the newspapers, having shaped the public opinion they needed, forced the US government to start a war with Spain at the end of the 19th century.
In this regard, G. Tarde expresses an interesting opinion that, contrary to the widespread conviction that the development of the media leads to the strengthening of democratic tendencies in society, a reverse process occurs. Namely: the influence and power of the media themselves is increasing. And, as a result, totalitarianism is growing, influence is polarized.
The fact is that the media do not give the public an opportunity to establish dialogical relations. They exercise a unidirectional effect on the reader, listener, viewer. And, therefore, those who own the means of communication or who work in them, they dictate their thoughts, attitudes, opinions to all consumers of information who are deprived of the opportunity to express their opinions, oppose or argue. They are doomed to passive perception of others' thoughts and opinions. Tarde notes on this occasion that the public only occasionally influences the journalist, while he himself influences her constantly. As a result, not democracy but media tyranny intensifies.
In addition, journalists impose far from the best examples of thoughts, opinions and morals to the public. With the help of the media, they destroy traditions, spoil the mores, break the very rational structure of society. Due to their activities, low-class passions are cultivated: envy, greed, depravity, selling out, vulgarity, superficiality, surrogates are replicated.
In addition, the development of the media and their monopolization leads to the scale of imitation and conformism. In accordance with the law of imitation, the leader-leader is now copied in tens and hundreds of millions of samples. There is a monopoly of authority, which is concentrated in a narrow circle of people, and in the end - in the person of one, the main leader.
Back in the late 19th century, Tarde predicted that, thanks to the development of the media, personification of authority and power, unprecedented in scale, would occur in the future, resulting in such monstrous tyrannical leaders, compared to which the grandest despots of the past would fade - Caesar, Napoleon, etc. How it is known that in the XX century this prophecy of G. Tarda repeatedly found its tragic confirmation.
The domination of the media leads to the fact that the power of the leaders increases incredibly, when authority is concentrated on one pole, and admiration - on the other. Of course, such a development is not fatal. An antidote to totalitarian tendencies is demonopolization and media competition. The monopoly on information always leads to such results that Tarde predicted and that humanity experienced in the 20th century.
Above, we have already said that Tarde, analyzing the development of the media, asserts that new leaders appear - publicists. S. Moscovici writes on this occasion that this is a type of politician who needs only telegenicity and a representative voice. Everything else: speech, “packaging” or image, etc. — will be made for him by journalists, lackeys and other attendants (Moskovichi S, 1996).