Dr. Suzanne Norman
October 18, 2020
The Democratic Side of Social Media
Social media platforms today are democratic spaces which allow people to connect and share their ideas and opinions as well as a place for others to learn and discover. This space on the internet has been constantly used since it was created but when platforms such as Google, Facebook YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc. were introduced, the web slowly turned and evolved into a democratic space. However, what makes this said space to be democratic and who makes it happen?
The users of social media platforms have a huge impact on how the platform is seen and represented. It is not a secret that political opinions are constantly being put out online for others to read and many uses it as an outlet to express their beliefs and ways of thinking. The first factor that democratizes the space of social media and content is the people who use it, such as me and you! Suler (2004) discusses the differentiation of individuals’ opinions and what they say on the internet world versus the real-life world where face to face interaction is required. In the online world, individuals are able to “loosen up, feel more uninhibited, [and] express themselves more openly.” (Suler, 2004). This is referred to as the “disinhibition effect” where boundaries are broken and rude language, criticism, anger, etc. may be expressed. The way that individuals express themselves online through media and language strongly builds the internet as a democratic space as it allows many opinions and views to be shared throughout. More so, the internet is a space in which anyone who has access is able to post or upload their own content. Politics has always been a huge issue in society, especially in North America where people have strong political views and opinions that they are not afraid to express. Being able to freely discuss such opinions is one of the main reasons to why social media platforms are a democratic space. It has taken over the internet space where “…37% [of social media users] say they are worn out by political discussions on these platforms” (Duggan & Smith, 2016). In contrary, individuals in dictatorship countries such as North Korea are unable to express their political views and have no access to the democratic internet space.
Understanding the way that social media users get their news and stay updated is an important factor when considering why and how democracy plays a role in shaping the internet space. For example, “roughly a quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) …” (Barthel, et al., 2020) retrieve their news from YouTube and are looking for opinions and commentary as well as information and facts. YouTube is a diverse platform where opinions of all sorts are accepted and is a place where many debates can take place, such as in the comment section of videos. Beauchamp (2019) mentions the impact that social media has on political campaigns and victories, discussing how crowds did not chant the running part but instead, “they were reciting the names of social media platforms” (Beauchamp, 2019). The crowd was crediting the social media platform that had been used to lead the winning party to a victory. Unfortunately, situations like such are an example of how countries such as Russia and China have successfully manipulated platforms to “destabilize democracies…” (Beauchamp, 2019). Furthermore, political debates and events are not the only thing affected when it comes to a democratized online space. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a constant circulating topic since the beginning of 2020 and we quickly began to see how certain individuals have created a political point of view from it. As unnecessary as it is, it has been pushed into a political debate of whether or not masks which help prevent the spread of the virus should be worn. President Donald trump has also been in the spotlight of how he has led his country through this pandemic, often downplaying the seriousness of it and making racist comments and jokes. However, many have expressed their opinions online on his work, allowing for the political aspect of their thinking to come into place. For example, many Trump supporters do not believe in the science of the virus and claim that it is a hoax, same as what President Donald Trump has been constantly urging. This way of thinking can be seen in anti-mask protests or hashtags such as #covididfake being used online. Unfortunately, a democratic space means that many individuals’ opinions are being shared in the same space and this is a prime example of such that society has to come forth to.
The internet can be seen as a place that is heavily controlled by the users. This is due to the fact that it is considered a democratic space because of factors such as the users, the users’ opinions, content posted by the users, etc. Ultimately, the first tier of what shapes a social media platform is the users and how they utilize the space. Second would be the content and how it is shared amongst the internet and third, is the political figures and the influence that they have amongst the users and content of the internet. More so, the democratic space on the internet can be interpreted in multiple ways in many different points of view but ultimately, that is what makes it a democracy; allowing for everyone’s opinions to be allowed and accepted.
Barthel, M., Eva Matsa, K., Khuzam, M., Stocking, G., Van Kessel, P. (2020). “YouTube news consumers about as likely to use the site for opinions as for facts”. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.journalism.org/2020/09/28/youtube-news-consumers-about-as-likely-to-use-the-site-for-opinions-as-for-facts/
Beauchamp, Z. 2019. “Social media is rotting democracy from within”. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/1/22/18177076/social-media-facebook-far-right-authoritarian-populism
Duggan, M. & Smith, A. 2016. “The tone of social media discussions around politics”. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/10/25/the-tone-of-social-media-discussions-around-politics/
Suler, J. 2004. “The Online Disinhibition Effect”. Cyberpsychology & behavior 7.3 (2004): 321-326. Retrieved from http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html