By Nasra Mohamed
Democracy is both intrinsically and instrumentally valuable for many reasons. It is inherently valuable, as it is a necessary part of freedom, self-realization, and it is essential for a society that treats all as equals. The procedure of democracy is instrumentally valuable because it produces the right decisions; it facilitates citizens’ development, increasing the perception of legitimacy. The values of democracy are significantly inhibited by political partisanship, and the current two-party system, as well as misinformation generated on social media, also helps fuel this partisan divide.
Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, social media companies are not publishers; therefore, they cannot be held liable for what their users post on their site regardless of whether they seem to regulate posts. Thus the parent company cannot be sued for misinformation or defamation posted on their websites. This law allows social media companies to have the same influence as publishers ( The New York Times, etc.) without any restrictions. This allows misinformation to circulate on a wide scale without much regard for its effect. That is especially troubling since the rise of social media has also fundamentally changed how people receive their news. Traditionally most Americans received their information through their local newspapers or a local tv news network. However, in the age of the internet that has drastically changed today, the Pew Research Center found “43% of adults get news often from news websites or social media, compared with 49% for television.” There are many dangers to Americans consuming their news from social media. In the webinar titled, “How to bridge the partisan divide,” Yphtach Lelkes an assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, argued that the information we receive on social media is influenced by the messenger. If someone we dislike in school is posting information about a subject or topic on social media, our brains might immediately disagree with them based on our previous negative experiences. Social media can expose people to extremist views they wouldn’t necessarily have access to otherwise.
A great example of how quickly misinformation spreads and causes damage, a viral “documentary” emerged on Facebook in the early days of the shutdown. It is called “PLANDEMIC”. The “lead” scientist named Dr.Judy Mikovits made the ridiculous claim that the COVID 19 pandemic was a” plan” created by the United States government to destroy the people’s liberties and enrich big Pharma. She also asserted that by wearing a mask, “you’re activating your own COVID 19 virus” and many other false and dangerous claims. The video went viral on social media; on Facebook alone, it racked up nearly 8 million views in the early months of the pandemic. Subsequently, protests were beginning to take over the entire country as many republicans took to their capital buildings to demand an end to lockdowns spurred on by numerous conspiracy theories like PANDEMIC. This misinformation is not the only side effect of social media becoming a primary source for
news; another is the “echo chamber effect.” Social media companies run on algorithms that tailor your content to what you interact with and like. This is very useful for entertainment; however, it can have a self-sealing effect when looking for news. Another issue with algorithms is that they are inherently biased as they reflect their code writers’ biases, and they are subject to the limitations of datasets. Dudley Irish, a software engineer, observed, “All, let me repeat that all of the training data contains biases. Much of it either racial- or class-related” (lee-rainie). Social media companies must take a proactive step to reduce the dangerous misinformation spreading on their sites. In the webinar Joanne Levine, a journalist at CQ Roll Call talks in length about the rise of what she hesitates to call “new journalism.” People are now writing op-ed pieces and passing them off as unbiased news sources. In the age of the internet, every outlet is competing to grab your attention. People are sacrificing quality journalism to maximize clicks on their new stories. Joanne also brings up the non-coverage of bipartisan efforts. For example, the women on both sides of the Senate meet at least once the Senate is called into office to discuss and bond with one another. Social media is a powerful tool; however, used incorrectly, it will do more damage than good. If you are not careful, your social media can be mirroring your beliefs and outlooks, which is not helpful when trying to grow.
The Two-Party System in the United States itself is a significant contributor to today’s partisan nature. In his farewell address to that nation, George Washington warned of the dangers of political parties. A notable opponent of political parties, Washington believed that the parties would lead to the union’s death if permitted to run rampant. “It always serves to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles one part’s animosity against another, occasionally foments riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption” many of dangerous Washington warned against in his speech have come to pass. Today most Americans agree with one another more often than not. In a Webinar titled “How to bridge the bipartisan divide,” the host of the webinar mentioned how the political polarization that we currently see in America doesn’t make much sense as the majority of Americans agree with one another on crucial issues.
Abortion is a great example. With the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barret, Roe v. Wade is expected to be debated; however, a study shows that “61% of Americans in a 2019 survey believe that abortion should be legal in all if not most cases (Micheal Lipka).” So how did we end up with a Supreme Court that could potentially override the people on this crucial issue? The reason is that most Americans are under the false belief that during elections, the majority rules. That is not the case in the US; we are under a plurality rules system. That means you do not need a majority of voters to win your seat; you; have more votes than your political opponents, and the winner takes all. In the 2016 election, this is how Donald Trump won his seat for the Republican Primary. Trump won 13.3 Million votes in 2016, one million voters short a majority. However, he still won the primary, and as such, nearly every prominent Republican leader had to fall in line. They had no choice but to disregard their personal beliefs and morals because of “negative partisanship.” People vote for their party members even when they disagree or dislike them simply because they dislike the other party more. This negative partisanship and winner take all system further divide the parties and help the other party’s character as an “enemy.” This polarization is necessary to maximize the turnout, as we have seen with this past election. Unfortunately, exactly how Washington predicted it would be partisanship has only helped to” agitate the public community” and distract the nation as a whole. Instead of voting for the issues they care about, people tend to vote for who they think can win. This leaves the United States stuck in a miserable position getting nothing done. As James Madison was quoted asserting,” a division of the republic into two great parties is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil,” so the question remains what can the American people do now to quell the negative partisanship that is running rampant?
The first and most crucial step is to stop labeling the” other side” this means online in casual conversation and debate; before you generalize a group of people, think critically about what you’re saying and the implications of that. The next step is to implement ranked-choice voting on a state-wide scale and then gradually move to nationally ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice citing allows for voters to designate their first and second options. In an election with three participants, voters had to pick their first and second choice options. If no one has won a simple majority in the early counting, then the candidate with the great views is eliminated, and voters are reassigned to their second choice. Then a second count is done and this time, whoever wins a simple majority wins the election. Ranked-choice voting forces candidates to reach across the aisle and gain support from both parties helping to damper negative partisanship. In order for ranked-choice voting to be implemented, there needs to be more information widely available about the topic. Massachusetts had a ballot measure to approve of ranked-choice voting; however, it failed. Secretary of State Bill Galvin said on question two, “The idea behind it is a reasonable idea, but it’s complex, and many voters didn’t grasp what it would mean for them.” Many were having a hard time adjusting to all the covid 19 changes to elections and simply couldn’t process anymore. Ranked Choice voting is a possible solution for much of the negative partisanship dominating elections in recent years; however, it’s going to take a concentrated effort to make that a reality.
DeCosta-Klipa, Nik. “What Went Wrong for Ranked Choice Voting in Massachusetts?” Boston.com, The Boston Globe, 5 Nov. 2020, www.boston.com/news/politics/2020/11/05/massachusetts-question-2-ranked-choice-voting-what-went-wrong.
Diamant, Jeff. “Three-in-Ten or More Democrats and Republicans Don’t Agree with Their Party on Abortion.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 23 Sept. 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/18/three-in-ten-or-more-democrats-and-republicans-dont-agree-with-their-party-on-abortion/.
Hartig, Hannah. “Nearly Six-in-Ten Americans Say Abortion Should Be Legal in All or Most Cases.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 30 May 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/17/nearly-six-in-ten-americans-say-abortion-should-be-legal/.
Levine , Joanne, et al. “How to Bridge the Partisan Divide.” Forum Network, WGBH, 19 Oct. 2020, forum-network.org/lectures/how-bridge-partisan-divide/.
Lipka, Michael, and John Gramlich. “5 Facts about the Abortion Debate in America.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 30 May 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/30/facts-about-abortion-debate-in-america/.
Newton, Casey. “How the ‘Plandemic’ Video Hoax Went Viral.” The Verge, The Verge, 12 May 2020, www.theverge.com/2020/5/12/21254184/how-plandemic-went-viral-facebook-youtube.
Rainie, Lee, and Janna Anderson. “Experts on the Pros and Cons of Algorithms.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 6 Aug. 2020, www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/02/08/code-dependent-pros-and-cons-of-the-algorithm-age/.
Wakabayashi, Daisuke. “Legal Shield for Social Media Is Targeted by Lawmakers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/28/business/section-230-internet-speech.html.
Washington, George, 1732-1799. Washington’s Farewell Address to the People of the United States. Hartford, Conn. :Printed by Hudson and Goodwin, 1813.