Calls to acknowledge the importance of individual choice and responsibility are often associated with “the neoliberal fantasy that anything can be achieved if the correct disposition has been adopted”. In contrast to the ideology of neoliberalism, I do not suggest that the focus on individual responsibility negates the need to deal with structural roots of social problems. I agree with Madva, who argues that advocating for individual change and advocating for structural change are not mutually exclusive, as “individual changes [are] integral to the success of structural changes”. Although individuals are constrained by the social system, they are at the same time its constituent parts allowing it to exist.
Furthermore, I want to emphasize that when an individual finds her or himself at a disadvantage, this power imbalance must not be described as the disadvantaged individual’s fault. A woman who has experienced sexual assault or a Black man who has suffered from police brutality must not be blamed for the acts of their perpetrators. At the same time, while we explain these victims’ actions not simply through their individual actions but by referring to their position in the flawed social system, perpetrators’ actions (although unacceptable) should also be seen as reflecting a combination of personal choices and structural pressures. For instance, gendered violence should be discussed in the context of the social construction of masculinity and pressures on men to conform to its scripts . Although in the snapshot view of the power imbalance, a disadvantaged and a privileged party can be clearly discerned, if we look at any situation in the context of the dynamic social system maintained through actions of all individuals that constitute it, the “victim vs. villain” binary becomes blurred.
The call to consider one’s implication in the social system through communication can be further justified if we differentiate backward-looking and forward looking aspects of responsibility. Backward-looking responsibility refers to accountability for things that already happened; it is often perceived as blame. I suggest focusing instead on forward-looking responsibility, which can be interpreted as an obligation to take certain actions in the future. While people who occupy disadvantageous positions in specific social scenarios (e.g., targets of bullying) should not be held accountable for creating these specific situations, we can still consider their role in upholding the social system as a whole, as well as their forward-looking responsibility in relation to structural problems that have affected them (e.g., educating their children about harms of bullying). By the same token, acknowledging our responsibility for understanding how we contribute to the social flaws through everyday communicative acts (whether mediated through technology or not) does not equal blaming ourselves for specific instances of oppression and marginalization that we have suffered. It means, however, considering our future actions in the context of our implication in the social system through communication processes.
The discourse of media externalization is misleading as it obscures how placing hopes and fears in what we call “media” distracts us from exploring our implication in the social system through mediated and non-mediated communication. Although changing the way we talk about the media might not be easy (unless we are ready to add lengthy explanations each time we refer to “media”), we should be able to change the way we think about the media and our own role in mediated communication.
All too often the media become(s) a scapegoat that is used to divert our attention from deeper roots of social problems . I do not want to imply that the role of mediated communication in reproducing inequalities should not discarded. Looking for complex reasons behind social flaws does not mean that we should not pay attention to the media at all. Communication through technology is a prevalent form of communication in the modern world, and it most certainly plays a role in the way our society functions. Therefore, we should continue exploring and discussing mediated communication, but do it while keeping in check our tendency to use the discourse of media externalization.
For instance, it is still crucial to examine politics of representation (who speaks for whom and for what purpose via technology) as well as the economic context of the media industry. At the same time, we should refrain from blaming professional media producers as a social group different from ourselves for creating and perpetuating social problems. In media studies literature as well as in the public discourse, professional media producers are often described as directly accountable for problematic media texts, tools, and practices, and as the ones responsible for changing them. For instance, scholars argue that because there is not enough diversity in the media industry, media texts lack diversity as well, which translates into power imbalances in the culture at large. While the lack of diversity (especially in the positions of power) in the media industry is hard to deny, the cause-effect behind the numbers can be interpreted differently whether we use the externalization discourse or try avoiding it. If we choose the second path, we might note that, rather than cause inequalities in society, the lack of diversity in the media industry reflects them. Furthermore, using the notion of forward-looking responsibility we can argue that it is up to all constituents of the social system (and not just mainstream media producers) to challenge inequalities—for instance, by becoming aware of our implicit biases and their role in upholding the social system, whose flaws cause the lack of diversity in the media industry and consequent media representations.
We might also want to consider Bobo’s claim that
[p]roducers of mainstream media products are not aligned in a conspiracy against an audience. When they construct a work, they draw on their own background, experience, and social and cultural milieu. They are therefore under “ideological pressure” to reproduce the familiar. (p. 212)
We can explore this ideological pressure through the notion of frameworks of understanding developed within the model of symbolic interactionism. The ideological pressure is maintained through communication processes, as members of the social system communicate to each other their expectations about normative behavioral scripts. Even though individuals are able to negotiate and play with meaning of their culture, this negotiation always takes place within certain constraints. This is true not only for professional media producers but for every member of the social system.
Using the theory of participatory culture, we can also note that the very notion of mainstream media is becoming less and less useful for describing mediated communication in the modern world. Today, a person does not need to be a professional media producer to contribute to the circulation of cultural meanings through technology. When we create media messages and send them out into the world, be it in a personal blog, on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube channel, we unconsciously reproduce some of these meanings. Our messages feed back into the culture, reinforcing frameworks of understanding that have shaped them in the first place, and the cycle continues. Both people who work in the media industry and those outside of it participate in this process. In most cases, neither the former nor the latter conspire to reproduce the status quo when they draw on common tropes and stereotypes of their culture.
 Paul Gilroy, “…We Got to Get Over before We Go Under… Fragments For a History of Black Vernacular Neoliberalism,” New Formations 80/81 (2013): 23-38, p. 26.
 Alex Madva, “A Plea for Anti-Anti-Individualism: How Oversimple Psychology Misleads Social Policy,” Ergo 3, no. 27 (2016): 701-728, p. 702.
 R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Berkley, University of California Press, 2005).
 William S. Pollack, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood (New York, Henry Holt & Company, 1998).
 Jules Holroyd, Robin Scaife, & Tom Stafford, “Responsibility for Implicit Bias,” Philosophy Compass 12, no. 3 (2017): 1-13.
 Freedman, Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression: Assessing the Scientific Evidence.
 Sternheimer, Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media is Not the Answer.
 Bramlett-Solomon & Carstarphen, Race, Gender, Class and Media: Studying Mass Communication and Multiculturalism, 2nd ed.
 Banaji & Greenwald, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.
 Bobo, “The Color Purple: Black Women as Cultural Readers.”
 Snow, “Extending and Broadening Blumer’s Conceptualization of Symbolic Interactionism.”
 Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.