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Social media is killing political discourse

(Sofiya Karki/Flickr)

Since I am currently in the process of applying to various social media internships for the summer, it might sound strange for me to assert that I would not be upset for one second if Mark Zuckerberg decided to shut down Facebook indefinitely tomorrow, or if Jack Dorsey simply pulled the plug on Twitter. Maybe it is just the pressure of trying to find a career and plan for my future, but I am not alone in believing that today’s political landscape, fueled in large part by the Donald Trump campaign and presidency, has made social media a nightmare for the rational, turning even the most upbeat optimists into cynics. To clarify, social media is not inherently bad. It is the way people use social media that has turned it from a great tool to connect with friends and family and a refuge for young people to express themselves, into a public forum where the bitter and disaffected are emboldened behind computer screens to say the things they would never say in person, dragging down intelligent, well-intentioned users into venomous and thoughtless arguments.

Over the past few months, Dorsey has seen increased requests to ban certain users, like white nationalist Richard Spencer, who have threatened and harassed others with different viewpoints. Outrage from the “alt-right” ensues, as was the case when Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was banned for encouraging his followers to harass actress Leslie Jones after the release of “Ghostbusters.” These are the users demanding Dorsey and Twitter respect freedom of speech, seemingly unaware of what that right entails. Twitter is not the federal government. They create the rules, and they can shut one down if they violate the terms and conditions.

Social media, along with cable news, is killing political discourse. Any critical reply to a President Trump tweet is in turn met with multiple fake accounts selling the now ubiquitous “Liberal tears” mug. But even among people who aren’t using anonymous profiles, social media does not facilitate informed debate. On Facebook, where people must post under their own identity and usually have photos of themselves, I get the sense that the individual is using a much more vitriolic tone than they use would in person. People accuse one another of being stuck in a social, political or cultural bubble, while refusing to acknowledge the online echo chamber in which they themselves reside.

Political Facebook groups and Twitter accounts alike serve to keep people in their bubbles and deepen the divide by essentially forcing users to “pick a side” and take up all positions associated with Liberals or Conservatives. Not that there aren’t reasonable people across the political spectrum who engage those with opposing with respect, rather, the nature of social media is to drown out the sensible with the ridiculous.

While I personally may be relieved if social media ever dies, we must try to keep it alive, for fixing it is much more worthwhile in the long run. Many people already rely on social media as a source of news and many more are likely to do so in the future. So, while it hurts political discourse now, the use of social media to inform people about current events, organize protests and movements and engage with politicians and public officials indicates it is an asset for a democratic society. It’s worth the time and effort to weed out the ills in order to save and uphold these strengths. We’ve already seen how social media can bring people together around political issues with the Women’s March last month. And we’ve seen how more and more Americans are connecting with senators and representatives online, empowering people to potentially pressure their leaders to act.

In the meantime, Facebook and Twitter must do everything in their power to reduce the proliferation of fake news and fake accounts, as well as ensure that their platforms facilitate productive, respectful and informed conversation. If they fail to do so, social media could end up going the way of cable news—an oversaturated, over-commercialized product that either divides consumers or drives them away.

Joe Carnovale is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at jcarnovale@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Social media is killing political discourse”
  1. Elizabeth says:

    Your article sounds far more totalitarian than democratic, you discourage dissent, discourage disagreement or disapproval if it’s not expressed in a way you approve like liberal’s tears, you only positively praise use of social media for positions you agree with like the woman’s march, you encourage censorship justifying it by banning ‘fake news’ and ‘fake accounts’ and some presumption that private for profit companies have a ‘function’ and that that are somehow required to make their platforms more ‘democratic’.

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