Why social media is bad for political discourse

Ewan Helliwell on how the internet has toxified the way we talk to each other

Ewan Helliwell
9th March 2020
Images: Shawn Campbell on Flickr
Anyone - regardless of age or political leaning - can agree that political discussion has morphed into something unprecedentedly toxic. Social media has transformed debate into a contest of who can receive the most likes and comments, regardless of facts or bigotry. This could be attributed to the anonymity that social media provides, but it's likely something else is at work.
Trump's Twitter antics have earned him notoriety
Image: Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Namely, the removal of the social etiquette seen in face-to-face discussion makes debate considerably less polite. The social consequences that come with improper discussion or bigotry when they occur in-person are not present online. That social media carries no real repercussions can be seen in Trump: he can personally attack someone or celebrate missile strikes that kill innocents. In fact, he has done it so much that we treat it as the norm, which speaks to a wider problem. If the President of the United States can tweet things like this, with no need to engage in debate to justify it, what’s stopping anyone else?

Social media has eroded the filter that was once used to stop the dissemination of prejudice and lies

Until relatively recently, if you wanted to broadcast an opinion, you had to use a more established media outlet. To an extent, this served as a filter for prejudice and lies, as it incorporated debate and fact-checking to ensure the reputation of the outlet. The ‘filter’ is now absent: anyone can post anything as long as they have a computer. Social media has welcomed radical opinions with open arms: it has helped hate groups find camaraderie and present their discourse as popular fact, aided by likes and fake news. Platforms pledge that hate has no place with them, yet have still failed to resolve this. This is on top of issues like botting, which continue to skew debates online in an act of political sabotage.

Thus seen, social media is inherently undemocratic, and a danger to the political discourse integral to western society.

For Sesha Subramanian's article on the benefits of social media, click here: https://www.thecourieronline.co.uk/why-social-media-is-good-for-political-discourse/

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