In today’s time, the impact of social media is such that if you were to not speak anything for the rest of your life verbally but were voicing your opinion digitally on a platform, you’d still be highly impactful. Social media, at its core is one of the biggest tenets of democracy but democracy is interpreted in different ways and is fluctuating constantly. The level of freedom an individual has on social media, is now dependent on their status and the audience they are connected to.
Social media, although claiming to be a space that is equal for all to voice their opinions, is heading towards becoming a completely authoritarian medium. The average person is told their actions on social media are in their control and uninfluenced. In reality, the authoritarians of social media, which can be further categorized as government representatives, officials, parties, etc., have become more and more strategic in their manipulation of the information that is distributed on digital media. Politics looks very different over the years as social media has become even more of an outlet to promote political campaigns, advertise groups of people believing in the same idea, and constantly influence the decisions the citizens of a country make. For example, Donald J. Trump, president of the United States of America, is one of the most talked about and well known people on social media, although not in the best way. His actions are the epitome of unacceptable and irrational, yet somehow he gets away with everything he says. This is because he has a following of people that support him blindly so he can say whatever he wants and to whomever he wants to. However, had it been any other person in place of him, they would have received more backlash and faced consequences for their words. Being an authority figure and a person in power gives him the buffer to be unfiltered. In the article “From Liberation To Turmoil: Social Media and Democracy”, authors Joshua A. Tucker, Yannis Theocharis, Margaret E. Roberts, and Pablo Barberá talk about how “Social-media technology is young, but has already played a part in numerous turbulent protests and a highly polarized U.S. election. Social media have often been described as the site for conflict between “good” democratic forces who use social media to make their voices heard and “bad’’ autocratic and repressive forces who aim to censor this channel to silence these liberal elements” (page 47). This explains how the shift in the idea of democracy in social media has taken place over the years. Another example is Greta Thunberg and her receiving mixed responses on her responsible attitude towards the environment. Her freedom to express her opinions shows the democracy of social media but the attempts to make her points seem invalid by numerous people, demonstrated that the freedom to express comes with the idea that what a person says are not as important if you are not a person in power. This goes to show that the democracy claimed to be existent on social media in today’s time is a myth and used to make the general public believe that they have an equal opportunity to express their voice without any restrictions.
Secondly, the type of audience and the age demographic impacts the response received on a statement and in turn impacts the freedom to express. In general, whether it be praise and approval or backlash and criticism, it is different when it comes to the platform and the audience it is used and viewed by. For example, Tik Tok is a platform that has individuals sharing and creating content over varying age groups. One minute you could be watching a Tik Tok with a university student giving tips on how to schedule your life, and the next minute a person could be seen supporting Donald Trump. Each type of content affects a different type of audience and the thoughts expressed in each one are drastically different as well. This goes to show that democracy does exist on social media but the backlash will be received on certain content that is found offensive or unappealing to the audience watching it. There will be people supporting the content receiving backlash and there will be people disagreeing with content being supported. If the response received on a statement or thought someone has to say, makes them change their mind about it, then the freedom of expression is not really there. In situations where the statement is negative and deserves backlash, for example with Donald Trump, freedom of expression or democracy of social media is an important thing so that the wrong can be criticized. This means that social media, however democratic we may consider it, isn’t actually so democratic because your thoughts can be influenced because of the audience it’s distributed amongst and that is not a negative thing all the time.
In conclusion, the existence of democracy in relation to social media is based on individual experience mainly. The freedom to express one’s thoughts and concerns while worrying about the response it will receive is creating somewhat of an invisible filter between the person expressing and the targeted audience. Social media is a democratic platform to begin with, but as the complexity of what it means to have freedom on such a platform increases, the more difficult it is to determine the democracy of it.
Journal of Democracy Volume 28, Number 4 October 2017 © 2017 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press
Social media is rotting democracy from within January 22, 2019 https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/1/22/18177076/social-media-facebook-far-right-authoritarian-populism
Psychology of Cyberspace – The Online Disinhibition Effect http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html
Social Networks And Democracy: A Difficult Fit, Or Just Plain Impossible? October 16, 2019 https://www.forbes.com/sites/enriquedans/2019/10/16/social-networks-and-democracy-a-difficult-fit-or-just-plain-impossible/