Media Influence On...Speech and Debate

When I joined the Speech and Debate Team at my high school, I was amazed. My first two years, I witnessed kids as young as fourteen civilly debating matters of public and international policy intricately, thoughtfully, and factually. That factual aspect was what struck me. These students spent hours each week researching and examining sources to make sure their arguments were well rounded.

But I noticed a gradual shift in rhetoric and research quality. Debaters have become more willing to behave aggressively in and out of their rounds. Speech topics have moved farther away from being solution oriented. The sources individuals are using have become increasingly questionable. (When asked what qualifications her sources had, a debater once responded to me with “It is a .org, and therefore it is credible”). The competition stopped being about listening and learning and became about fighting to win in any possible way.
My fellow competitors and I have recognized this shift and we attribute it to a general idea: our exposure to media. We watched the news across various devices and platforms, as Speech and Debate kids do, and absorbed how those we watched responded to arguments. We examined how they spoke, countered, and defended. And even though their reactions were not aspects of classical decorum, we implemented them. We thought, if political commentators can yell at one another, so can we. If the news reports on the radio can have tenuous sources, so can we. If our communities can become polarized and not fully hear opponents’ opinions, so can we.

Our constant exposure to this media through our devices allows these behaviors to become acceptable and ingrained in our minds. The famous Bobo Doll experiment conducted by Albert Bandura illustrates this concept of observational learning and modeling. The experiment shows that we learn from what we observe and look to imitate those behaviors. Speech and Debate competitions allowed me to understand the impact of technology on children and teenagers. The media and information we surrounded ourselves slowly morphed the way we interacted with others and the world.

What about you? Have you had an experience where you fully realized the influence of media on your life? What did you do to try and change after you had that realization?

Further Reading:
Bobo Doll Experiment
Observational Learning:

Study Abstract About Teenagers Learning Behaviors from Movies


@sidnya thanks for posting this!! Your post here is why it’s so important to post our experiences on this forum. If we all post the thoughts we have all day- our experiences related to our world becoming digitalized. We then can see common themes and our thought processes will grow. Anyways…

I see what your saying about research quality and argument construction in debate. If we are researching engines that funnel us into our interests we will never see the world around us. The source quality is concerning too- and this is not taught in schools. Schools only tell kids to consider their be source- not how to analyze a source. Analyzing sources of infuriation didn’t really come to my generation till high school- because we were all playing and doing athletics after school instead of writing papers. Now kids are expected to start writing research papers at the end of 2nd grade.

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I understand where you are coming from. I don’t necessarily think it is the research itself that is the issue, but the normalization of aggressive rhetoric through media exposure. I agree, we are not really taught how to distinguish between what media is created to be inflammatory and what is actually impartial. I see it as more of an education issue than anything.

This is definitely ‘a thing’. It is a trend that is becoming more and more visible as certain groups in society become more extreme in their positions and thus more polarized. There is a general lack of critical thinking and nuance in public discourse, media coverage and as a natural consequence people are influenced by that. As we have always been influenced by our political/cultural leaders and the media.

The fact that this is becoming more polarized, aggressive, unsubstantiated etc. is due to the exact underlying cause that is part of what we are trying to address here in this community: the effect of technology on people. Two main factors play a role here:

  • The rise of social media. Where everyone has a platform to broadcast, be vocal and there are no real checks-and-balances with respects to the information that is being spread (such as the fake news on facebook).
  • The Attention Economy. Where traditional, thorough journalism has had to make way for the rapid news game that the current media companies play in the competition for our attention. Better to be the first with the news, and later retract / correct than to be late to the game…

The upside is that because of the increasing violent tone of public discourse and social media more and more people are becoming aware that there is actually something real happening here. And that it would be wise for us to stop, think and decide where we would like to be going.

Personally I think the observational learning reference is perhaps not the most relevant research to substantiate this. There is a large body of scientific research available on media influence on public discourse and invididual attitudes and behaviour.
I hold the view that because of the accelerating pace of (technological, cultural) change, people are becoming even more insecure about their place in this world and what the future holds. Since we are social creatures, we look for safety in numbers, and have a desire to belong to a group. In light of the abovementioned polarization, when people will want to belong to a group there is a need for them (intrinsic) to adopt the viewpoints and behavior of that group. Otherwise they will not really feel a part of it, nor will they be accepted.

Someone who is very on-point on your observation is Jonathan Haidt. He has a recent book out on this “The Coddling of the American Mind”. Check an article about it here:


I will look into that article! The reason I spoke about observational learning was because we were talking about social media and that topic in my psychology class. But I am always looking to see things from different perspectives!