by Sadia Saba
As the world entered the 21st century, social media became an exciting mechanism used to connect individuals through a screen. However, recently it has taken on a new and more powerful role: political influence. What was once used to stalk your friend from high school, social media now plays a large role in our relationship with our government.
Social media’s role as a linkage institution is an important one. Social media expands democracy in a way our founding fathers could have never imagined. It has allowed for movements globally, such as the widespread movements of the Arab Spring and the Women’s March. It also largely promotes accountability of our elected officials. Political dissent is made easy because someone can project their opinion in just a few minutes.
However, social media is also responsible for a lot of governmental deception. Our president is notorious for his impulsive tweets. Trump’s tweets are hardly informative but have successfully caught the attention of journalists. Twitter’s 140 character limit makes it difficult to convey opinions thoroughly. Complex ideas are forced to be condensed into a few sentences, which can be dangerous for those who do not further research the nuances of a given issue.
Many also accuse social media sites of being “echo chambers.” Instead of being open forums in which you can absorb information from multiple points of view, media feeds often are designed to reflect your ideological preferences. Social media networks such as Facebook use algorithms to generate a news feed that will maximize the user’s time on the site. That is why it is common for people’s feeds to be filled with pages that coincide with their own views rather than ones that challenge them. Social network sites are meant to facilitate an open conversation between individuals. However, sites like Facebook often strengthen divides between people with contrasting stances on issues. Comments on posts are exchanges of name-calling and personal attacks rather than an insightful dialogue. This is due to the fact that many social media websites do not display a diverse feed to its users. People become accustomed to being surrounded by people of like-minds. Thus, disagreement is seen as radical.
Social media is a powerful tool at our exposure. It has provided voices for people who thought it was impossible to do so in their country. However, it can do more harm than good if used ineffectively. Users must understand and accommodate for the shortcomings of sites like Twitter and Facebook. It is imperative that people refuse to receive news from single sources and accurately formulate their own stances and opinions. Once these things are achieved, we can get one step closer to becoming a more educated, politically active populace.