Being a Gen Z has given me both the curse and the blessing of the digital age. I get criticized by my mother for being on my phone only moments after being asked how to make an Instagram story, and technology itself seems to be something that everyone roots for yet is afraid to use when it actually comes time for it. Now that my generation has surpassed the legal voting age, the question arises: Is social media ruining politics? To answer briefly, I would say no. However, since people are always looking for a scapegoat, in this blog post I will analyze some of the pros and cons and explain why I tend to not be so against social media as it relates to politics.
The cons of social media and its effects on political discourse can be quite obvious as they tend to be the most talked about. Having universal access to opinions that range from fact-checked to outright ignorant is sure to persuade voters in one way or another. When we think of politics and social media, one of the first things that comes to mind is Donald Trump. For one thing, although he is no longer president, he still remains in the news due to his digital platform, and it can be argued that his internet fame contributed to his populist ideals. Donald Trump was the prime example of the celebrity president as he is widely known for his controversial tweets that often discuss topics not even closely related to politics. If you’re looking for a reason to hate on social media, you can turn to Trump’s Twitter, and I don’t mean that from a partisan point of view. Every politician has utilized social media as a way to connect with potential voters; it’s just a symptom of having new technology. Nicolas Carr of Politico makes a metaphor comparing the effects of social media on politicians to verbs and nouns: “If traditional print and broadcast media required candidates to be nouns—stable, coherent figures—social media pushes them to be verbs, engines of activity. Authority and respect don’t accumulate on social media; they have to be earned anew at each moment”. This quote implies that social media is changing things for the worse, but when you really think about it, hasn’t this behavior already been in existence? The first legitimate celebrity president was Kennedy, and his fame came from televised debates in which his personality and looks played a major role in his presidential win. FDR had his success in the age of radio with his fireside chats, and Trump fits perfectly into the age of social media. I say this to make the point that new technology has always been and will be a medium for political discourse to take place, regardless of how legitimate someone claims it to be. Not to mention, why put all the blame on social media when there are news outlets and papers that are just as to blame when it comes to propaganda and misleading information. Maybe it’s because we consider social media to be the “lesser” form of news, thus rendering it the place that people critique it for being: a place of unwarranted opinions from people who don’t have the education to back up any of what they say. Don’t get me wrong, social media is a two way street. There are the creators and there’s the audience who consume what the creators produce, and maybe that is what makes the internet such a scary place: those roles can interchange instantly. But if we really want to fix the problems we complain about – disinformation, fake news, propaganda, lack of transparency – then why don’t we elect candidates who value truth above everything else instead of idolizing these “celebrity presidents” that offer more entertainment than legitimate policy. Furthermore, why don’t we elect candidates who make it a priority to manage social media as a healthy place for discourse instead of a toxic one, and as citizens, why are we contributing to the falsehoods instead of uncovering the truth ourselves? Perhaps the cons of social media are just the results of our human condition and our need to act in self-interest. Social media itself exists only as a means of communication. It’s up to us to decide what gets posted and how we interact in a digital sphere. Based on that alone, social media is fantastic when it comes to looking for diverse perspectives and facilitating debate. I’m aware this sounds a bit idealistic; it’s not that easy to change the way the entire world has been using this tool. But I encourage you to use a constructivist lens the next time you think about social media. In other words, be responsible for the reality that you create, both inside and outside of social media. You decide what you post, so what would happen if we all just decided to stop feeding into the nonsense? Social media is here to stay, at least until the next big phenomena comes around, so let’s at least try to bring out the best in each other.