The Menlo Roundtable

How Did Mass Media Affect the Scope of the Dreyfus Affair in Europe?

The effects of mass media have seeped into every corner of modern society: disinformation plagues social media, the phenomenon of cancel culture looms over public figures, and relentless advertisements pursue us from billboard to billboard.

Today, with just a few clicks, we can expose ourselves to the opinions of millions across the world – a shift from previous eras, where mass media as a means of mass communication only took physical forms through media like newspapers or radio. While these modern capabilities have lent themselves to numerous improvements in society, at the same time, our society has grown far more divisive from the ease with which we can disseminate media.

Although these developments may seem firmly rooted in modern society, as with most cultural trends, the rise of mass media and its consequences has its roots in the past. Namely, the Dreyfus Affair of late 19th to early 20th century France is a key preliminary example of how mass media spread through newspapers and other forms of media often intensifies debate around contentious topics. In this sense, we can look back on the Dreyfus Affair as a warning about how mass media polarizes situations – reducing nuanced issues to black and white – often to the detriment of those involved in the affairs. At the same time, mass media has the potential to rally people to support a cause for the good of others.

Photo: Henri Meyer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons