Social media, though it has greatly advanced the mass communication of news, data, and other information, has contributed to the growingly hostile political culture that has emerged in recent years. With social networks allowing us the ability to strictly control which opinions we hear, and allowing us to subconsciously censor differing viewpoints, many users surround themselves only with information that reinforces what they already know to be true.
Social media is how the majority of its users obtain their news.
Before analyzing the impact that social media has on politics, it is important to first establish the prominence that it has as a news source as opposed to merely a network for socializing for which it was intended.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January of 2016, roughly 6 in 10 Americans get their news from a social media site; Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter are most likely to be used to accommodate this:
Out of all adults who use social media, only 25% identify as Republicans (Gottfried, 2016). When such a high amount of social media users are getting their news from their frequented sites, this poses an issue because the general news lacks any meaningful diversity of thought or viewpoint. Social media has a direct impact not only on how people hear news, but also how they may likely perceive it.
“People seek confirmatory information.”
When a user chooses which news outlets and organizations to ‘like’, ‘follow’, or ‘subscribe’, they are generally not searching for an unbiased source—what they are searching for is content that reassures their preconceived views.
“Psychological research shows that people really want confirmatory information. Not only do they want to know what’s up, they want to have opinions, and they want to find like-minded people to tell them why their opinion is correct. It doesn’t mean the people won’t change their opinion, but it feels better to find people who are supporting you and telling you why your opinion is right.” Karen North, USC Professor of Communications and Director of Social Media
People seek affirmations of what they already believe.
Social media ‘activism’ lessens the motive to participate in government.
It is important to remember that while social media is an incredibly effective way to communicate to likeminded individuals, it is still necessary to promote the drive for genuine engagement and activism—whether that be canvassing, campaigning, volunteering, or even as simple as voting. FOX and CNN exit polls of the 2014 midterm election show that out of all voters, only 13% were millennials despite making up 31% of the electorate.
Retweeting, hashtagging, or sharing statuses about political events to promote a particular cause can give some the illusion that they are actively contributing to it. This is more so an observation rather than a conclusion based on quantitative data, but simply retweeting something is not going to further one’s cause, and civic engagement is important to maintain in any republic.
It narrows the person’s point of view.
64% of social media users get their news from “just one site”, 26% get it from two, and only 10% get it from three or more sites. Limiting one’s perspective into the issue is damaging to how adversary is viewed. Rather than seeing somebody of a different opinion as another American, it is easier to consider them an enemy. An example that comes to mind is the assumption from many on the left that conservatives are racists, sexists, and homophobic. Pages like “Occupy Democrats” may very well make you feel more secure in your beliefs, but you are doing a disservice to yourself and others for not being truthful.
Demonizing any political adversary is damaging to intellectual honesty and integrity, but it occurs all too often on social media. It is crucial that we surround ourselves with differing opinions, value truth over “alternative facts”, and consider civic engagement as a civic obligation.
- Gottfried, Jeffrey, and Elisa Shearer. “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. N.p., 26 May 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
- Kapko, Matt. “How Social Media Is Shaping the 2016 Presidential Election.” CIO. CIO, 29 Sept. 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
- “The Effects of Social Media on Democracy.” MSNBC. NBC Universal News Group, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
- Khalid, Asma. “Millennials Now Rival Boomers As A Political Force, But Will They Actually Vote?” NPR. NPR, 16 May 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.