Photo: YND – Voting poll in Washington, DC
Politicians are increasingly using social media to reach out to (potential) voters. In and of itself, this is just an evolution of communications strategies that leverage new tools and take advantage of the cheap and direct access to the public. There is nothing wrong about this. To the contrary, especially when the public’s feedback is taken seriously.
From this standpoint, social media should, in fact, cement relationships between decision makers and the public, and foster understanding between people with diverging views. Ultimately, such exchanges should help resolve divides in a society and move towards solutions that favor a more harmonious cohabitation of the different views.
That would be in a perfect world where the race for power and party interests would not take over the good of the nation as a whole.
The diversity of parties and ideas is a good thing for democracy. But when parties themselves only play the blame game without offering clear and inspiring visions, and polarize the debate, they drive the population to extremes with them, even without social media.
The U.S. divided Congress’ inability to come together in 2011 to find a plan to reduce deficits was the first reason for the country to lose its AAA rating, meaning everyone pays a higher price for it. S&P Global then said “the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened.”
Since then, things have worsened. The use of social media has greatly spread within government, but the polarization of politics has translated into polarized exchanges online.
In my view, this has been a missed opportunity for politicians to show how they could rise above divisions for the good of all, instead of transferring their fights onto platforms where informed and uninformed views cross paths, rarely leading to constructive exchanges, and often even deepening divides.
Populations are chiming in, often with little knowledge or research effort, providing emotional opinions, if not straight insults.
Here is a Tweet from Donald Trump (@realdonald) in 2015 in response to the terrorist attack on French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, and some reactions at the bottom:
Photo: Screen shot of @realdonald (Donald Trump) account
Such a tweet could only encourage strong reactions charged with emotion, in support or against it.
Social media also contributes to the prominence of image over substance as platforms don’t lend themselves to in-depth discussion given the limited space on Twitter or blogs that cater to a society with limited attention span when it comes to reading.
Just like in real life, people tend to gravitate around like-minded people, limiting their exposure to one side of the political spectrum. But on social media, the proliferation of news, fake or real, amplifies this one-sided view. Such “echo chambers”, according to a research published in the scientific journal PNAS
http://www.pnas.org/content/115/37/9216, prevents “people from being exposed to information that contradicts their preexisting beliefs.”
Can it be fixed?
Social media does offer opportunities for movements to emerge and bring the debate forward, such as the #MeToo movement, that is actually forcing change in organizations, including in the political sphere.
So there is positivity on social media. However, how to make two opposite movements actually talk to each other to find common ground?
How to leverage social media so that they can foster a more constructive dialogue among people with diverging views? Should politicians give the example first?
Can social media foster #dialogue in a world of political #divide? See what I think bit.ly/2Rs4Q8U
Does social media deepen political divide? See more at bit.ly/2Rs4Q8U and share your views!