Does social media play an important role in democracy, if any at all? No matter where you look, some sort of social media platform is there, so it’s pretty easy to say that social media is a part of our lives and it is impossible to escape it. Social media and democracy can go hand in hand as social media platforms tend to strengthen democracy because the public can engage with each other and with many non-government groups. However, just as there are many advantages there are also some disadvantages of social media’s impact on democracy.
To begin with, the public can communicate with each other. Social media provides a space for many pro-democracy activists to be able to engage with the public, keep everyone informed about everything that is going on, and raise awareness. First, engagement with the public allows activists to get more people to join them as “they utilize apps, social media and other technology to raise awareness, recruit activists and organize protests” (ShareAmerica). This allows them to reach as many people and tell them all about their mission. Second, social media is the best way to keep everyone informed about what is happening around them. Finally, they can raise awareness about important things happening around them and take action accordingly. Due to these reasons, social media strengthens democracy because the public can communicate with each other and take action according to the information they are given.
Next, because social media strengthens democracy, the engagement between the public and non-government increases because non-government can promote their groups, the people become more educated, and the public gains a voice. First, non-government groups can promote their charities and goals because “…they [can] use social media to promote voting drives and other community engagement initiatives” to tell the people about their charities and what they plan to accomplish (ShareAmerica). Additionally, the public becomes more educated as they keep learning about all the events that are happening as well as all the news that they are being told about the world. This is shown because many people say that, “…social media users are more likely than non-users to say technology has made people more informed about current events…” (Smith). Lastly, society gains a voice because they learn about everything that is going on, other people’s perspectives, and politics; they also become “…more accepting of people with different views… and more willing to engage in political debates…” so that they can make a difference and make their voice heard (Smith). Ultimately, society and non-government groups go together to make a difference, however, every bit of information learned should be taken with a grain of salt.
Finally, although there are many reasons why social media strengthens democracy, there are also quite a few reasons why social media weakens democracy. Some of these reasons include manipulation, censorship, and fake news. To start with, manipulation can be done by anyone with access to the right information. With enough information, people could manipulate others as well as silence them. Many people believe that “these technologies have made people easier to manipulate with rumours and false information… social media [has] increased the risk that citizens might be manipulated by domestic politicians” (Smith). Manipulation can come in many shapes and sizes, one of which is censorship. Following that thought, censorship can show up in many ways “…such as hindering access to information or threatening would-be opposition figures…” (Tucker). Censorship could also mean self-censorship because many people have the “…fear of getting shamed, reported, doxxed, fired, or physically attacked…” for voicing their thoughts and opinions (Haidt). So, the more censorship that occurs whether that be information censorship or self-censorship, the less information gets spread and free speech becomes limited. Besides manipulation and censorship, fake news is also an issue impacting democracy. Fake news can come from anywhere, but the majority of the time it gets created and spread through social media. Ethan Zuckerman runs the Center for Civic Media at MIT and he states that “…if we are to expect better from platforms like Facebook and Twitter, then we need to know what it is we want them to do…” because many people use these platforms to spread rumours or false information (Ingram). He wants humanity to decide whether they want platforms that are full of false claims or places where people can express themselves and their opinions. Fake news is spread by people to people who will fall for their tricks. The less fake news that is spread, the less prominent it becomes. So, many ways that weaken democracy through social media like manipulation, censorship, and fake news are just a few of many.
To conclude, democracy and social media fit together quite easily, plus democracy is greatly impacted by social media in both good and bad ways. Social media is a very prominent thing throughout society and it can both strengthen and weaken democracy because it can raise awareness and give people a voice, but it can also manipulate people, it all just depends on how those platforms are used and by who.
Haidt, Jonathan. “Yes, Social Media Really Is Undermining Democracy.” The Atlantic, 28 July 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/07/social-media-harm-facebook-meta-response/670975/. Accessed 2 November 2022.
Ingram, Mathew, and Kyle Pope. “Can social media have a positive effect on democracy?” Columbia Journalism Review, 30 May 2018, https://www.cjr.org/the_new_gatekeepers/social-media-democracy.php. Accessed 2 November 2022.
ShareAmerica. “How technology can strengthen democracy.” ShareAmerica, 15 November 2021, https://share.america.gov/how-technology-can-strengthen-democracy/. Accessed 2 November 2022.
Smith, Aaron, et al. “People think technology impacts politics positively and negatively.” Pew Research Center, 13 May 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2019/05/13/publics-think-technology-impacts-the-political-environment-in-both-positive-and-negative-ways/. Accessed 2 November 2022.
Tucker, Joshua, and Joshua A. Tucker. “Analysis | This explains how social media can both weaken — and strengthen — democracy.” The Washington Post, 6 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/12/06/this-explains-how-social-media-can-both-weaken-and-strengthen-democracy/. Accessed 2 November 2022.