It’s fair to say that over the last decade or so, public opinion has never been so vocal. Not so much through the use of actual vocal chords, as through typing out four hundred characters on a keyboard. Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram have changed the way politics is shaped in many countries across the world.
With millions of people having access to social media, it’s only natural that society and its discussion of politics – on any scale – took centre stage. Elections, campaigns, policies, debates: nothing was off the table. Some might argue that this has given rise to clutter, trolls and so on and so forth. I’m not saying these aren’t legitimate arguments: I’m just saying that the benefits of it far outweigh the negatives.
Social media helps maintains checks and balances from the people’s side
Social media promotes debate and discussion, essential principles that govern any democracy and are key to maintaining a system of checks and balances from the people’s side. It gives people a way of communicating their concerns, disappointments and expectations to those who can do something about them. This does not necessarily result in action but at least the conversation is something that can be started; in earlier times, it was tough to get that going. Continuing on the theme of access, it also serves as a medium to bring problems in one country to the wider attention of people across the globe. I can sit in a somewhat clean house in England and disagree with a law passed back in my home country in real time.
It has also brought together people with common causes and similar agendas. Greta Thunberg would have found it a lot harder to gain almost immediate traction with the general public if she had been forced to do it in the fifties. Social media has helped champion worthy causes by bringing those who share that cause together.
Politicians can use social media to engage with the public in a way that wasn’t previously possible
Politicians benefit from social media too. It has allowed them to gauge what the public wants more accurately and has allowed for them to engage on a more one-to-one basis than was previously possible. It allows them to keep tabs on how they are doing, what they are getting right and, equally, what they are doing wrong.
Social media has not just enabled or encouraged political discussion, it has amplified and even, to a degree, personalised it. This can only be a good thing.
Ewan Helliwell’s piece taking the opposite view can be read here: thecourieronline.co.uk/why-social-media-is-bad-for-political-discourse/
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Last modified: 20th March 2020