Is Social Media Helping or Hurting the American Political Climate?

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Ian Melo

Nearly two-thirds of American adults are active on today’s social media platforms, according to the Pew Research Center. These are citizens that share the collective concern that their fellow citizens have for the state of politics in this country and do not want to see it slip into the hands of the side they disagree with, and social media is a way for them to air their opinions to the world and hopefully influence things to move their direction. Of course, political discourse has not only existed in these digital forms, every decision made before 1980 is proof enough of that. There have always been places for people to go to and discuss the state of things with their fellow man. But to see discourse today is to see it moving on such a massive scale that it is nearly impossible to keep up with. Is this huge exchange of information a good way to guide American politics?

At first glance, it seems to be a great way to witness democracy at work. Everyone is allowed to express their opinions fairly and engage others in their views. Organization of ideas and movements have consistently been proven to take off from Twitter in unprecedented ways. These graphs pulled from the Economist show how a powerful message can attract the attention of mass amounts of people over social media like Twitter.

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This idea of organization and mobilization of a movement is a cornerstone of free speech and the democratic political system. It allows for the will of the people to be a guiding light for discourse. On that same token, our new president owes a lot to the way he garnered an impressive following on Twitter to propel him through the primaries and eventually to win the general election. His supporters had a place to rally behind him without fear and his tweets were seen by millions around the world, whether they supported him or not. The impact social had on the election last year is incalculable, but not insignificant in the least.

The Pew Research Center released a study last year that delved into how people thought about seeing politics on social media, and some of the data can be seen in the graphic below.

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Over a third of people studied were “worn out” by political discussions on social media sites, which is no insignificant percentage. It could easily be seen as a reason that voter turnout was at a 20-year low in the 2016 election. People have been turned off to politics and that is a dangerous thing to be turned off from in a country where its stability depends on the participation of its people in its politics.

There are positive and negative impacts of social media on America’s political climate, to be sure, but the full scale of its impact has yet to be seen and accurately measured. These next four years will only see it become more and more intense.

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UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism