Does Social Media Hijack or Perpetuate Democracy?
Upon the facilitation of my on web space, as both a content creator and content consumer I have gained a deeper understanding as to how various cyberinfrastructures influence democracy. There has been wide spread debate regarding the intersectionality between social media and democracy. That being said, these debates have fuelled the explosion of research from numerous corners of academia (Persily, & Tucker,. 2020). Considering the 2016 US presidential election controversy, where the Russian intervention both raised awareness and served as ammunition for platform critiques (Persily, & Tucker,. 2020); and the Cambridge Analytica scandal it seems fair to conclude that social media does not serve as the most suitable catalyst for democratic dialogue. That being said, the idea that social media platforms create democracy could be seen as an “imagined” ideal. Why?, because social media platforms are known for content framing, and algorithmic manipulation, so just how democratic can these spaces be? I argue that although social media platforms can act as catalysts for mass information sharing, and networking, it is also a space that essentially hijacks democracy.
Joshua Tucker suggests that social media itself is neither inherently good nor bad for democracy, but can sway either way depending on how it is used (Hobbi., 2022). In agreement with Tucker, I reflect on a theme heavily considered during my time spent in CMNS 353 Topics in Technology and Society. The politics of things. This concept entails discussions of how inherently political things are. Rather, are things inbuilt with politics or do they gain political value once put to use by a consumer? As a reflexive researcher this serves as highly relevant discourse considering that the relationship between social media is contingent on the “how” factor of its use. For instance, there is heavy controversy surrounding discourse of social media being used for political polarization as it is known to limit users to echo chambers made of likeminded individuals (Hobbi., 2022). At the same time, it is argued that social media prompts exposure of a network fuelled by diverse political views. Once again, confronted with this grey area, the debate can continue to go back and forth.
The reason I remain stagnant on the side of the spectrum that argues how social media hijacks democracy is because I have first hand experience of data harvesting, and information framing. Growing up in a generation that has always had accessibility to the online world information has been abundant. Although much of this information is exclusive to the digital realm, and subject to information bubbles and algorithmic manipulation (Leetaru, 2017). The information we see is constantly being catered to specific demographics based on individual digital footprints. Every move consumers of the online realm make, are being tracked, monitored, and catered to. So what exactly is democratic about an entirely artificial user experience? Just because social media has enabled wide spread dialogue and information accessibility does not take away the subtle leash users have clasped around their necks.
User data is constantly being data mined (Leetaru, 2017) in exchange for ease of access. It seems as though the majority of online users do not understand the depth at which democracy is lost when signing off on all the agreement clauses’ presented when creating profiles for various online platforms. On the other hand, as per observation, younger demographics are well aware of the democracy; but are more interested in relishing in the online disinhibition effect (Suler, 2004). This is because it allows them to explore both their benign and toxic disinhibitions. Social media establishes a space where individuals can exude a persona they would never ordinarily get to do in the face-to-face world (Suler, 2004). So in that respect, it could be argued that social media does enabled democratic dialogue because people who could not do so in a real world setting are able to attain a voice virtually.
Ultimately, social media has enveloped contemporary society, and every liberating step we take in a cyberspace outside of our own is not as democratic as we think it to be. This can be attributed to disinformation practices that triumph throughout the cyberspace. Further research is yet to be done when it comes to establishing concrete conclusions on what exact features of the social media cyber space negate democratic dialogue.
Hobi. (2022, February 3). How does social media impact democracy? Charles Koch Foundation. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://charleskochfoundation.org/stories/how-does-social-media-impact-democracy/
Leetaru, K. (2017, September 29). In a Digital World, are we losing sight of our undigitized past? Forbes. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2017/09/29/in-a-digital-world-are-we-losing-sight-of-our-undigitized-past/?sh=767df0b2cd01
N. Persily & J. Tucker (2020). Social Media and Democracy. Social Media and Democracy: The State of the Field, Prospects for Reform (SSRC Anxieties of Democracy, p. I). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Psychology of cyberspace – the online disinhibition effect. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html