Twitter is theoretically a social media platform where everyone is welcome, and everyone is heard. Anyone can set up an account and start creating their own personal cyberspace. Twitter has largely become a modern public square where users can share any view or belief as long as it is less than 140 characters. This has played a dramatic role in modern politics and public debate and has been especially used by President Donald Trump. President Trump uses Twitter as his prominent method of communication, and he has posted more than 11,000 tweets (Mcintire & Confessore, 2019). Twitter has many democratic functions such as allowing anyone to create an account, tweet, or retweet content that they deem to be relevant. These functions have led politicians to believe that the views expressed on Twitter are representative of the general population; however, the twitter population is not representative of the American public (Wojcik & Hughes, 2020). This paper will argue that Twitter has become a false representation of democracy because of the lack of representation of the American public among frequent tweeters, the creation of echo chambers within political discussions, and the presence of widespread misinformation.
Twitter is not a democratic sphere because it is not representative of the American public. Democracy is a style of government that gives political control to the people by having a direct voice or an elected representative (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Twitter would be a democratic sphere if the voices and views shared were equally representative of people from every geographic and socioeconomical realm, but a study by Pew Research shows that, “Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall” (Wojcik & Hughes, 2020). This is only representing a small proportion of the U.S. population and is neglecting populations that are less educated, older, or have lower income levels. Politicians may lose sight of the actual views of their political ridings if they are too consumed with the views expressed on Twitter. Further, The Atlantic writes that many Twitter users engaged in politics are self-reported extremists that contribute to creating controversy among politicians (Mounk, 2019). These extremists bring attention to political debates they are invested in while taking attention away from other important matters. Mounk concludes that Twitter has failed to connect America’s elite to the ordinary people and has instead, “Amplified the beliefs of a small band of hyper-political partisans” (2019). Twitter is not a democratic sphere because it does not accurately represent views from the general American public.
Twitter discourages open discussion by creating ‘echo chambers’ where users are prone to interact with only those who have similar opinions to their own. Constructive discussion operates as having two varying opinions being reviewed by both parties, and then a conclusion is reached with some level of compromise. Echo chambers operate differently by magnifying the current political views of users and only showing users tweets or retweets that are like their current beliefs (Yiu, 2020). Democracy was created to encourage political discussion and have opinions and beliefs represented from all people, but Twitter tends to polarize belief systems and create further division among belief groups (Yiu, 2020). C. Nguyen, a professor of philosophy, writes that, “Echo chambers isolate their members, not by cutting off their lines of communication to the world, but by changing whom they trust” (2019). This means that as Twitter users engage in political discussion, they become entangled in tweets and media that agree with their views and they become less trusting of anyone who has a different opinion. Twitter creates a lack of democracy by creating distrust and limiting the range of opinions and media that are exposed to users.
Twitter is not a credible democratic sphere because of its tendency to magnify false news and misinformation. An intensive study by a group of researchers at MIT found that fake news and falsehoods were far more likely to spread than the truth (Vosoughi, Roy, & Aral, 2018). Falsehoods were 70% more likely to be retweeted than accurate news, and researchers wrote that false rumours would, “Reach more people, penetrate deeper into social networks, and spread much faster than accurate stories” (Vosoughi, Roy, & Aral, 2018). This creates conflict because if users are taking to Twitter as their source of news, they are far more likely to get something false than the truth. Twitter is addressing this for the upcoming presidential election by tightening their rules regarding retweets, monitoring pre-emptive victory claims, and banning political ads (BBC News, 2020). These actions have good intentions regarding the spread of false content; however, it does not address the fact that Twitter users gravitate towards fake news. Democracy was developed by the people to find the truth of what is best for the people, but Twitter is too good at captivating people with stories of fake news.
Twitter is not a democratic social media platform because of its false representation of the American public, its creation of polarizing echo chambers, and its tendency to share fake news. The prevalence of Twitter in modern politics has enabled politicians and officials to be more accountable and accessible to voters; however, it has also allowed politicians to access data sets of analytics on potential voters to cater campaign marketing directly at their audience (Murse, 2019). This creates the potential to target Twitter users with political marketing and propaganda that is suited to their interests and may have influence on their voting decisions. Social media and the internet have allowed for the fast spread of news and ideas, but if modern politicians rely on Twitter for their representation of public opinion, they will fail to respond to the actual views of the people, they will obsess over fake news and political scandals, and they may end up forfeiting election (Mounk, 2019).
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Wojcik, S., & Hughes, A. (2020, May 30). How Twitter Users Compare to the General Public. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2019/04/24/sizing-up-twitter-users/
Yiu, Y. (2020, March 18). Visualizing Twitter Echo Chambers. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from https://www.insidescience.org/news/visualizing-twitter-echo-chambers