On its inception, social media was seen as the perfect tool which would serve as the voice for the marginalized masses. However, as time goes by this hope and reputation is sadly fading away where social media has been used as a manipulative tool. Social media is being used by those in power to tune the thinking of the masses in ways which these people in power think is essential (Loader & Mercea, 2012). This manipulation occurs in three distinct forms which include the creation of a given set of beliefs among people, using mistaken information as well as the use of filter bubbles. All these forms have been used by those in power to twist the thinking of social media users thus undermining the central tenets of democracy. At that juncture, I firmly believe that social media is one of the huge threats to democracy.
Starting with creating of a set of beliefs among given groups, it involves the deliberate fabrication and sharing of information which is purely false. This information tends to be created by state individuals with the sole aim of duping the recipients.
Take for example on the eve of the U.S election in 2016; YouTube was abuzz with recommended videos to watch in favor of President Trump. There was a lot of information popping out in this site with some being false but favoring President Trump which is a clear violation of social media in a bid to push a personal agenda. Through these actions, social media is thus being used as a tool to convince users on unpopular choices and decisions thus a threat to democracy.
Social media is also being used as an accelerant of mistaken information also called fake news. Mistaken information which is the unintentional sharing of false news is very common in social media. When such information is shared online, it has a significant impact in the real world as the mainstream media tends to pick such information. In turn, this news deviates the mainstream thinking of individuals who succumb to this false news. In such an occurrence trust which is a central tenet of democracy is shattered where the masses have to live with unreliable information and unfortunately make decisions and choices from this untrustworthy information.
Finally, social media has constantly engaged itself with filtering out content and giving consumers an array of information which they believe they like. This is called filter bubbles in the social media circles. Social media make a mistaken assumption that the user engages in a given content because they like it thus they push more and more of the same information to the user while filtering out opposing opinions.
Here again, the U.S 2016 general elections serve as a good example. Social media platforms tracked their users on the information of the candidates they liked. For instance, a user who frequently checked on Hillary Clinton’s Facebook page was constantly fed with articles and other related information of Hillary Clinton while conspicuously barring any information of President Trump from being seen by the user. At the same time, a user who constantly checked on President Trump was fed with lots of articles on Trump while Clinton’s details were hidden. In such a scenario the social media user is not having a fair look into both sides and choose what he or she likes instead the individual is forced to make a decision based on single-sided information thus threatening democracy.
In a nutshell from the recent developments, we can affirm that social media is becoming a huge threat in democracy and it needs to be checked immediately. To act as a tool which can foster conscious choices the social media platforms have to diversify and offer both generic, opposing and popular information (Tucker & Roberts, 2017). Through such an endeavor, then social media will not be forcing the consumers to think in a way which is dictated by the content instead make their own free choices which are the foundation of democracy.
- Loader, B. D., & Mercea, D. (Eds.). (2012). Social media and democracy: Innovations in participatory politics. Routledge.
- McChesney, R. W. (2015). Rich media, poor democracy: Communication politics in dubious times. New Press, The.
- Tucker, J. A., Theocharis, Y., Roberts, M. E., & Barberá, P. (2017). From liberation to turmoil: social media and democracy. Journal of democracy, 28(4), 46-59.
- Price, E. (2013). Social media and democracy. Australian Journal of Political Science, 48(4), 519-527.