Social Media and Democracy

pexels-photo-607812.jpeg

It seems clear now that social media is changing democracies around the world. When I was teaching social media courses in 2010 and 2011, there was a lot of discussion about the role of social media in the “Arab Spring.”  The Arab uprisings started a debate over the role and influence of social media. Did Facebook and Twitter power the ousting of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the imminent overthrow of Mubarak.

The perceived Facebook and Twitter revolutions seemed to be centered on young protesters mobilizing on their feet and on mobile devices. Some called this “citizen journalism.”

My students, like many critiques, felt social media was a democratizing tool. But in the years since, opinions on social media and democracy seem to have turned the other way towards it as hurting democracy.

For example, Facebook has had to look at its impact it has on the democratic process after receiving much criticism for content on the platform during the Clinton/Trump campaigns. Facebook actually said it could no longer guarantee that social media is beneficial to democracy. That is a surprising admission.

For example, Facebook has had to look at its impact it has on the democratic process after receiving much criticism for content on the platform during the Clinton/Trump campaigns.

Facebook actually said it could no longer guarantee that social media is beneficial to democracy. That is a surprising admission.

One critique of social media is the ability to create echo chambers — online spaces that only surround users with like-minded people and ideas.

Soledad O’Brien examined how social media is impacting democracy on her program Matter of Fact.

Harvard professor Cass Sunstein studies this effect in his new book Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Sunstein talked with O’Brien to discuss the pros and cons of social media and why the ability to filter out opposing views is a threat to our democracy.

There’s another phenomenon at work: “group polarization” which says that when you are in an echo chamber, you can become more extreme and intolerant.


 

Advertisements