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English 1304.08

English 1304.08

Dr. Ross

April 26, 2018

Social Media and Its Impact on Democracy

Over the past 15 years, the use of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has increased dramatically. The continual growth in the use of these platforms has led to a rise in the power they hold over the world, specifically the American population, as most Americans rely on these applications for their news, social updates, and political information. Though social media outlets have the power to inform the people, the stories written are oftentimes distorted because of political biases. In fact, social media in America has begun to shape societal viewpoints, has changed the process of political actions such as following campaigns and voting, and has impacted American democracy as a whole. This has all led to many people wondering if the increased use of social media is negatively impacting democracy, the very foundation upon which America is built. As social media websites and applications allow users to create online communities to share videos, personal messages, pictures, ideas and other information about themselves, it is becoming a very powerful campaigning tool for politicians and has aided in developing the relationship between common Americans and their political leaders, affecting America and its democracy.

Simply put, democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. While some foreign audiences have traditionally been mostly critical of American influences, they also know it is a powerful centerplace for many positive political, scientific, technological and economic ideas. However, America chose to limit the power of its central government by dividing it into groups handling separate matters. For a long time, Washington D.C. has been considered the center of all American political influence, but social media has played a large role in keeping the power from being centralized in one city or a classified group of people. Applications such as Twitter and Facebook, may even be distributing power to common people as they facilitate the communication between regular citizens and their politicians. This differs from regular media, such as the television, radio, or newspaper, which only allows one-way communication. Social media, on the other hand, gives a platform for interaction among the users. Social media is of much help to those who find it more liberating and comfortable to interact online in place of conversing face-to-face because of nervousness. Another advantage of online interaction is that people can get past many geographical boundaries and connect to other people with same interests as them that they might otherwise have never connected with. Furthermore, social media can help sustain the relations which might have been at a disadvantage due to the absence of geographical proximity. It enables interaction that may have been inconceivable without it, especially between common folk and their leaders. Whether it is posting on Facebook and tagging the local town mayor or tweeting an opinion about the President’s choices, social media has helped bridge the gap for Americans.

This ease of communication has led people to develop a strong reliance on their phones and the instant gratification that comes with the internet and social media today. Instant gratification is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment and is something most Americans are guilty of. Americans of all ages have become strongly reliant upon their smart devices because of their ability to provide an answer or entertainment in seconds. An analysis was conducted by researcher Quan Li to review social media research from different perspectives from 2008 to 2014, and one thing he found was that “the first thing people do when they wake up in the morning is open their phones and check their social media. Only 11 percent of people surveyed said that they read the news first, compared with the 78% that check their social media,” (Li). The research on social media has been characterized by rapid growth and dynamic collaboration, with a rising number of publications and citations. It has also revealed some “interesting patterns and trends on the scientific outputs, major journals, subject categories, spatial distribution, and international collaboration in keywords usage on social media” (Li). This demonstrates that Americans have become addicted to their smartphones, and that because of this, political campaigning through the internet is extremely powerful. Many people want to break this addictive habit of checking their phone because they know that their reliance upon it has become unhealthy; their “intention might be to hop online to quickly update [their] status or tweet [their] latest life revelation, but social media is addictive and a major time consumer,” and what starts out as a status update most often turns into an hour of surfing their social media and chatting with friends (Larrson). Furthermore, “Americans spend on average, 16 minutes of every hour online on social networking sites,” which totals to almost six hours a day on social media (Larrson). This influences democracy because it allows politicians and other influential people to easily broadcast their message to a massive audience, who is extremely easy to reach.

All of this poses the question of how people can reap the benefits of social networking sites without being consumed by them. One way would be that “companies could redesign their sites to mitigate the risk of addiction. They could use opt-out default settings for features that encourage addiction and make it easier for people to self-regulate their usage,” (Peng). It is very easy for websites to filter what the user sees as they scroll through. They do this through web cookies, or packets of data sent by an Internet server to a browser, which allows the website to see what the user was interested in, which they can then show as advertisements on other websites. Additionally, it is very easy for these websites to collect important information from its users. For example, one of the most popular social media sites, Facebook, has been receiving growing controversy from the press and the American public. Facebook is a popular and free social networking website that allows registered users to create profiles, upload photos and videos, send messages, and keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues. Facebook is facing intense criticism after “information emerged revealing the app had known for years that Cambridge Analytica had collected data from millions of its users,” and possibly used it to influence the 2016 election (Albrechsten). This new information about social media and how easy it is for these sites to take their users personal information has impacted many peoples’ view of the sites they are using and the amount of time they spend on it. Because of this, it can be argued that social media is hurting democracy as it causes users to unknowingly see a biased political view on their feed. Nelson Granados, a reporter for Forbes news magazine, spoke a lot about Facebook in his article, “How Facebook Biases Your News Feed,” where he went over how Facebook’s news biases feed its users, focusing on the chronological order that the app shows posts. The only unbiased, fully transparent method would simply be to display all posts from your Facebook friends in chronological order. This way, it shows friends and family posts first, along with the topics that the user clicks on most often. While helpful, this algorithm becomes dangerous when people are using Facebook as their source of news. For example, “it turns out that 61% of millennials use Facebook as the prevailing source for news about politics and government,” (Granados). Without realizing it, the user is likely to develop tunnel vision when the personalization is based on the past click and like behavior. Because Facebook tailors news feeds based on their users’ behavior, users inadvertently become victim of their own biases. It is particularly concerning because most users do not go to Facebook to read news, but somehow they end up doing so.

Because of the time in which millennials are growing up, they are prone to rely on social media and their easiest accessible news source, their phones, for news updates and information. However, social media applications are usually not reliable sources of news. It is extremely easy for gossip or slander to be spread as if it were actual news, which the average person is likely to believe. Fabricated, or fake, news is news that has no basis, but is presented as being factually accurate. Much of the news that flooded the internet during the 2016 election season consisted of fabricated written pieces and recorded segments promoting false information or conspiracy theories about the candidates. The 2016 U.S. Presidential election is known as the “most technologically advanced election in history,” because of the debates, slander, and campaigning that took place on Twitter, another popular social media app (Covaci). For example, the current president, Donald Trump, was highly criticized for his aggressive and malicious tweets toward his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The campaign tactics used during the election were extremely different than any other political tactic this country has seen; the candidates were “driving up anger and attention levels to push people who have never voted to the polls. This aggression-focused approach is very new to Presidential elections, whereas previous get-out-the-vote focused campaigns focused on Hope (Obama in 2008), Compassionate Conservatism (Bush in 2000), and Economic Growth (Clinton in 1992),” (Covaci). Most of the tweets posted by Trump during his campaign were insulting and unprofessional, and they have yet to change. This is one negative of the power social media has over democracy: the conversation between the political leader and his people is much more transparent and provides the opportunity for the country to see its leader behave unprofessionally. When people begin relying on social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook as their primary news source, social media becomes a threat to democracy. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman constructed a study on how the social media apps Facebook and Twitter help spread democracy and human rights. In his article, he states, “with the popular mistrust of the powers that is spreading, no wonder that pro-government propaganda has a better chance of being listened to and absorbed if arriving to its targets through the internet,” (Bauman). People are drifting from the traditional form of news updates because of how easy it is to access news on their phones through apps like Twitter.

Twitter is another one of the world’s most popular social media applications. On Twitter, users follow not just friends, but also industry experts, people they admire or find interesting, and even users with opposing political views. Twitter has been referred to as a large, worldwide, online chat room. It is just one of many social media platforms that has greatly impacted the world’s means of communication. Tweets, the written posts that users can upload, are placed in chronological order on its users’ feeds, rather than like Facebook’s filtering algorithm. Users have the option to find and follow famous people or organizations, including those that may have political views opposite of their own. Twitter does a good job of promoting healthy conversation between its users and provides a platform for the common person to voice their opinion and feel heard. However, because Twitter encourages freedom of speech, a multitude of negative debates between people with differing opinions tends to occur. It is something that happens every day; a user from one political party will post their view on a topic and will immediately be reprimanded or attacked for their opinion. Mia Moody, a professor at Baylor University, studied how politicians and Americans are adapting to negativity on social media and stated, “negative political campaigning and policy-centered voting have become more prevalent in recent years, especially with the advent of the Internet and the subsequent increase in media sources such as blogs and social media platforms,” (Moody). The growth in campaigning done on social media has increased the amount of negative content posted by Twitter users. Another problem faced by Twitter users are automated social media accounts, also known as bots. Online social networks are crawling with autonomous computer programs that spread propaganda, or information of a biased nature that is used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view, in attempt to manipulate voters and influence political processes. Researchers are beginning to understand how these bot accounts are used to try to manipulate public sentiment on contentious issues including gun control and the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Real-world political outcomes are beginning to demonstrate the reach and power of bot-driven Twitter campaigns, in which a core group of tweets spreads information rapidly by encouraging large numbers of retweets. Recent investigations have uncovered, for example, “Russia-backed bots programmed to automatically tweet animosity-stoking messages in the U.S. gun control debate following last month’s school shooting in Parkland,” (Covaci). Filippo Menczer, a professor at Indiana University’s School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, stated that they “are seeing that bots are very effective in putting stuff into people’s feeds, and in amplifying messages,” (Baraniuk). Menczer is part of a group of researchers based in the U.S. and China who are studying what they call a misinformation network related to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The researchers wrote software they called “Hoaxy,” to find tweets with links to unverified claims related to the election. Hoaxy identified two million retweets produced by several hundred thousand accounts, spreading misinformation over the six months leading up to the election. Bot-filled social media misinformation networks, like the one Menczer and his colleagues studied on Twitter, play into a broader debate about the internet’s ability to divide public opinion and affect the outcome of elections. There is still research being done about the impact of Twitter bots on the 2016 election, but, until the problem is solved, many Americans have chosen to stay off of both Twitter and Facebook for the lack of privacy that comes from online socializing.

Overall, social media is changing the dynamic of democracy in America in many ways.

Just start your conclusion by summarizing the purpose of the paper- Then summarize each of your paragraphs and tie each of them back to that ^ main claim. If you have to edit the main claim a bit so that everything is able to tie back to it, that’s fine. Then, at the end, restate the main claim by saying as a result of [insert P1, P2, P2, and P4’s causes], it is clear that democracy in America is changing drastically, AND finish off by including a “so what?” statement- something like “as we move forward as a nation, it is imperative for us to ensure that social media doesn’t take control of our political system too much,” or something like that, which leaves the reader with an application to the paper. -Mason

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I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.