Social Media & Its Political Power

“Social media can be a powerful tool to connect people in ways that traditional media avenues don’t or can’t,” said Dr. Mark Congdon, a Communication and Media studies professor at Sacred Heart University. “There’s a lot more information that we have access to that we can use to make decisions about what we can buy, where we might go or who we may connect with based on our interests.”

Regarding the information that people have access to on social media, political topics and issues are a big part of it.

“There is a major shift in how and where people get political information, as more people turn to digital sources and abandon television news,” according to BBVA Open Mind.

Different social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, are used to provide audiences with political content, whether it is from a political figure or just someone sharing their opinion on a certain issue.

“The platform that has the most influence is whichever one has your attention. The real issue is not which one but what use you make of it—to get accurate information that will help you be an engaged citizen or just to watch the latest song or dance meme on TikTok,” said Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Steven Michels, who is also a political science professor.

With more people tuning into platforms like TikTok, people have noticed lots of controversy arise.

According to the New York Times, “Ahead of the midterm elections this fall, TikTok is shaping up to be a primary incubator of baseless and misleading information, in many ways as problematic as Facebook and Twitter, say researchers who track online falsehoods.”

“Social media has allowed for disinformation and flat-out lies to be spread in a very easy manner,” Congdon said. “And that’s concerning for all because if we can’t have a conversation on a basic level of what the facts are, that becomes a problem.”

An event that faced more controversy because of social media was the attack by supporters of former President Trump on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump’s “involvement” with it on Twitter. In one of his tweets, Trump said, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

“Whether or not the President of the United States was in fact directly related and directly responsible for that possibly falls into the category of something that had been magnified without enough evidence yet [because of social media],” said Prof. Gary Rose, a professor of government and the author of several books on politics and the constitution.

Many commentators say that with the spread of political content on social media, there can be more bias.

“Social media means it’s easier than ever to exist in a bubble, where your beliefs are not subjected to empirical rigor,” said Michels.

Despite the controversy it can cause, social media can make more people’s voices heard by resharing something they agree with or being able to post their own opinions online.

“There is more opportunity for people our age, and other ages, to speak their minds,” said junior Elaina Edwards, who found herself influenced to vote by what she saw on social media.

“I didn’t feel like my voice mattered. I’m just one person, it’s not a big deal,” said Edwards. “But then I saw people I look up to on social media promoting it and saying that my voice would be heard, and that changed my mind. I realized how important it was.”

“People should vote because their vote does translate into public policy,” said Rose. “If you choose not to vote, then basically you’re a spectator.”

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