Social networks are a major part of the contemporary world. It is no doubt that they have firmly integrated into our society in the past decade and brought along many benefits. Today we are granted immediate access to endless amounts of information shared through social networks and talking to people from another part of the world is only a matter of a couple of clicks. It has become incredibly convenient to share opinions and discuss different matters on the internet as well as create, find and join communities of people with similar interests. The world has never been more democratic than it is now. Social media provides space for it to flourish. But is the increasing use of social networks really beneficial to the promotion of democracy? Useful for communication purposes as they are, social networks have some major disadvantages and are in fact often used to manipulate and sabotage democratic involvement. To gain a better understanding of this viewpoint we will look at several arguments that explain how social media hurts democracy.
In the first place, disinformation campaigns and propaganda are constantly being launched through social networks, which often affects people’s decision-making and through processes regarding contemporary issues. Nowadays an individual without a particular notable reputation can occasionally gain the same amount of followers and readers as New York Times or CNN. It makes it easy for people to engage in creating “fake news” and false stories outlets concerning political issues on social media platforms and let it reach a wide audience quickly. People would continue sharing them without ensuring whether they have actually been approved or not, bringing them to an ever-larger scale. According to a survey conducted in the US many people have also reported that they tend to believe false stories. [footnoteRef:1] Such disinformation campaigns were particularly out of control during the 2016 presidential elections in the US when the amount of fake election news shared through social media greatly exceeded the number of actual mainstream news.
The second reason why social media platforms can poorly influence democracy is that they tend to personalize the content on them for each user. This essentially leads to the creation of a “filter bubble” where a person only ever sees material relevant to their interests and is not exposed to topics and points of view they would not normally consider. [footnoteRef:3] Like-minded people become screened from contrary perspectives; in those echo chambers, their personal positions are getting more support and are therefore amplified, causing potential development of extremism and radicalization.[footnoteRef:4] In his study of the group polarization phenomena Cass R. Sunstein, a Harvard University professor, has experimented Colorado to find out how people with different political outlooks– liberal and conservative – are affected after conversing for a while with the supporters of their position, which resulted in both sides shifting towards a more extreme point in their views.[footnoteRef:5] Sunstein later has remarked that “For many users, social media platforms are creating the equivalent of the Colorado experiment, and with damaging results for democracy.”
Finally, along with the increased use of social networks the public has also witnessed the growing level of political bullying and hate speeches as well as other kinds of bigotry.
There are however opposing views that claim social media to be a great tool in the spread of democracy. For example, one cannot deny that platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube allow people to express themselves freely and have their voices heard without being censored by the government. Social networks give people an opportunity to speak their minds and provide space for informed debate. They also enable the creation of connections and establish communication between political figures and voters.
In conclusion, it is possible to say without a doubt that social networks play an important role in the promotion of democracy. They are one of the means for people to express personal opinions as well as participate in the process of making decisions that will affect their lives. However, we cannot neglect the fact that social media has several major downsides to it as well and often inflicts more damage to democracy than helps. Since the time social media has been introduced to us at the beginning of the 21st century, disinformation campaigns or the spread of “fake news”, political polarization, and bigotry on the internet have also risen to a larger scale. The world
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