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How Social Media Changed Democracy

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Amid the midterm elections, many are looking toward social media to see how the various platforms are readying themselves for this upcoming election. With the fear of the spread of misinformation and chaos, many worry that social media companies are not doing all that they can.

Social media is contributing to the polarization of parties

Many can easily observe that the election process has been disrupted by the popular surge in social media over this past decade. There have always been people on the far ends of both sides of the political spectrum, but in this day and age, there are simply more public avenues for their ideas to be viewed and shared.

On a recent 60 Minutes special, Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, said, “The more moral outrageous language you use, the more inflammatory language, contemptuous language, the more indignation you use, the more it will get shared. The better you are at innovating a new way to be divisive, we will pay you more likes, followers, and retweets.”

Harris claimed that a recent study from Twitter revealed that more attention to a post is almost guaranteed if it attacks a political opponent. The more controversial the topic, the more likely it will be to grab and keep viewers’ attention.

Because of this, the people with the more extreme takes are the ones whose posts are gaining the most traction on these social media platforms. Essentially, the harsher a post’s becoming, the higher the chances of going viral. Most people are moderate, so often the narrative on social media does not represent the vast majority of people it may claim to be representing.

Related: How to Avoid the Danger Fake News Could Pose to Your Brand

Social media platforms have created avenues for misinformation

Misinformation is one of the biggest issues that has arisen with the merging of social media and the political campaign process. Over the past few years, there has been an extraordinary informational assault on the legitimacy of US elections fueled by the spread of baseless claims of fraud. With increased concern about potential misinformation about voting and elections, several groups have urged tech companies to do more.

While platforms like TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube say they are working diligently to prevent harmful claims from spreading, some platforms appear to be playing catch up. In a letter sent to the CEOs of Meta, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Reddit expressing concern about the ongoing spread of misinformation through platforms operated by those companies, California Attorney General Bonta said, “The spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms has led to a proliferation of conspiracy theories, political violence, and threats to democracy ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.”

Many social media platforms have learned from past experience just how important it is to combat the spread of misinformation and are claiming to take it very seriously. For example, Meta contended that it’s investing an additional $5 million in fact-checking and media literacy efforts for Facebook and Instagram before Election Day.

Many of the major social media platforms have plans in place to prevent the spread of misinformation about voting and elections. These could be anything from warnings on a political post, labels of misinformation or even system changes that automatically recommend certain content.

People who choose to violate these rules can be potentially suspended. Unfortunately, not all policies are enforced consistently, including the policies intended to stop harmful misinformation regarding the election. Sometimes false information can hide in places where it is hard to police, such as the comment section of a post.

Related: What is Smear Campaign and What Companies Should Do About it?

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Through time and action, many companies operating the main social media platforms have shown society that they are incapable of self-monitoring to the necessary level. Because of this, it is becoming increasingly important to promote media literacy and educate people on finding credible sources for their information.

Social media platforms are not the only cause of the recent democratic crisis, but their falling behind with the necessary changes required to stop their tools from becoming platforms for hate and election subversion significantly impacts the democratic process.

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