The rise of social media has many benefits, one of them being how convenient it is to share your opinions and find those who have similar beliefs- but does that really mean social media creates a democratic space for dialogue? In this essay, I will argue that though all voices are welcome, we as social media users curate our newsfeed to only provide us with information we are hoping to see, hence never fully creating a democratic space.
Social media platforms have an algorithm which shows you posts related to things you are interested in. For example, if you tend to follow and “like” more liberal news, you are likely to have more liberal news show on your newsfeed- this can mean you are not being exposed to the other side of the story. Furthermore, social media provides us with an option to block or unfriend people whose opinion we do not agree with. According to a study called Political Polarization and Media Habits by Amy Mitchell, Katerina Eva Matsa, Jeffrey Gottfried and Jocelyn Kiley, “Roughly four-in-ten consistent people on Facebook (44%) say they have blocked or unfriended someone on social media because they disagreed with something that person posted about politics”. This is another reason people have no idea of news items which they do not associate themselves with. This definitely creates a bubble and a lot of the times, we forget that we created this bubble and result in obliviousness. Not being able to understand and acknowledge a difference of opinions cannot possibly count as a democratic space for dialogue.
There is value in the idea of your own personal social media bubble. It can provide a great sense of validity, confirmation, and confidence to know there are other people around the world who share similar views with us. Finding and “following” these voices online is beneficial. However, thoughtful and critical use of our bubble means they should include people with views we’ve never heard of before, people who will challenge our views, and people who have vastly different experiences than our own. This raises the question, is social media democracy even possible? Nancy Fraser discusses “Should we conclude, rather, that the public sphere was a good idea that unfortunately was not realized in practice but that retains some emancipatory force? In short, is the idea of the public sphere an instrument of domination or a utopian ideal?” Taking the time to let minority or lesser-heard voices into our spheres can be rewarding and eye-opening, but social media platforms at their current stage cannot be considered a democratic space as we get to choose what we are exposed to.
Nowadays, many people tend to get their news from social media platforms. “Social media, however, and Facebook in particular, are emerging as a powerful news referring source. At five of the top sites, Facebook is the second or third most important driver of traffic.” States a study called Navigating News Online by Kenny Olmstead, Amy Mitchell and Tom Rosenstiel. But the
issue with social media platforms not being a democratic platform is the danger of the one sided story- we risk a critical misunderstanding if we are only aware of one side of the story.
As of recent times, social media platforms have become more sensitive to the content people are creating. Moderators are set in place to remove anything that goes against guidelines in order to maintain the reputation of the platform. Tarleton Gillespie states, “Whether faced with “fake news” or live streamed violence, “content moderators”—who censor or promote user-posted content—have never been more important. This is especially true when the tools that social media platforms use to curb trolling, ban hate speech, and censor pornography can also silence the speech you need to hear”.
Youtube in specific has been demonetizing content that they published. Due to that, the audience now gets two filters before their content reaches them; their own personal interests based on an algorithm, and what is considered “appropriate” by YouTube guidelines. This is due to the reason that YouTube relies on sponsorships as a source of income, and have to maintain a certain reputation to be able to get these sponsorships. That being said, these guidelines, no matter what the reason for implementing may be, put restrictions on a space that is supposed to democratic. For example, nudity is considered enough to cause demonetization, be it real or graphically designed. This has led to Youtube driven defensive design where many video-games are now implementing features that hide sensitive content as a counter to getting demonetized on Youtube or other such streaming services. YouTube used to be one of the main social media platforms where creators were encouraged to share their opinions with their audience. Ever since YouTube started demonetizing, content creators on YouTube no longer have a democratic space for dialogue.
Social media platforms may be a space for dialogue, but it is definitely not democratic.
Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. Social Text, 25-26(25/26), 56-80.
Gillespie, T. (2018). Custodians of the internet : Platforms, content moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape social media / Tarleton Gillespie.
Mitchell, A., Matsa, K. E., Gottfried, J., & Kiley, J. (2014). Political Polarization & Media Habits. Pew Research Centre.
Olmstead, K., Mitchell, A., & Rosenstiel, T. (n.d.). Navigating News Online: Where People Go, How They Get There and What Lures Them Away. Pew Research Centre.
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