Does social media sway public opinion in politics?

Written by Comment

It needs to be noted that, while it’s easy to blame technology for today’s problems, through history humans have consistently proved their ability to divide, with or without Facebook.

Legislators must not demonize the platforms as a whole, but rather understand their nuances and uses, and exploit their potential as informational tools.

Canadian law has been trying to control the use of social media campaigning during federal elections: in particular by demanding platforms to set up a digital ad registry. Nonetheless, the social media platform WeChat was able to target Chinese-Canadians with a campaign of misinformation. In fact, although WeChat has declared that they do not accept political ads on their platform, heavily deceiving messages have been allowed to advance the conservative agenda on the app.

In light of this development, it would be ingenuous to state that social media does not have an influence on elections. Yet, this is an issue that does not concern social media itself, but rather its uneducated misuse.
To some however, the mere concept of social media, whether in compliance with the law or not, is damaging to a functioning democracy.

They argue that targeted ads reinforce the division between different sides, to the point of users being enclosed in a “bubble” carefully crafted to support their views. However, it is not impossible to break out of this “bubble”.

For example, through the internet, it has never been easier to compare and contrast different news websites, or even participate in forums that do not reflect the user’s political views.

“In light of this, it can be argued that the problem is not in social media itself, but rather in people wanting to listen only to what they already believe.”

This instinct is not new. It used to happen through newspapers, with people preferring those who reflected their own political views, and it still happens with TV reporting.

While social media has been partly blamed for increasing levels of populism, the solution lays not in castigating the concept as a whole by reducing its influence, but rather in regulating its use, and educating users on how to use it most effectively.

Last modified: 27th October 2019

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