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Governance In The Age Of Social Media

Social media, by the popular press, is always seen as a harbinger for chaos, a ‘media source’ that blurs the line between opinion piece and fact that spreads rumors faster than light and allows fantasy to take flight on butterfly wings that allow little room for facts. But is that really all it is? And how is governance tied into a platform used by adolescents to share pictures that no one really cares about to audiences composed almost entirely of unwilling peers?

Social media, at its essence, allows the quick dissemination of information. While this does mean that anyone and everyone can broadcast their opinion, no matter how nonsensical it may seem, it has also led to the growth of ‘social media activism.’ While hordes of older generations are quick to criticize a form of activism they see as ‘comfortable’ (something that activism can never be), it has led to its fair share of successes. Social media activism has its own set of difficulties (in the form of internet trolls and unreasonable bigots with counter-arguments that they refuse to justify or explain), but it can help lobby against governments through a form of popular protest that can spread far more widely than a physical one can. It also social media allows governments to gauge popular opinion and speak to the masses without the necessity of calling for a press conference.

Twitter is the best example of this phenomenon. It allows government officials to inform the public about new provisions and the implementation of policies that they might not have heard about otherwise. The polling feature allows them to check how popular their policies are without needing expensive and time-consuming surveys or interviews. Additionally, gauging popular opinion in such a way allows people to record their dissatisfaction with elected representatives even before regular elections would allow them to do so. It can also, however, lead to the formation of an incredibly undiplomatic counterculture of democracy that we certainly do not need.

Donald Trump’s twitter account is an example in and of itself. His undiplomatic language, falsely eloquent reports, and childish arguments make one question the very character of democracy.

For every time that we have governments like Iceland attempting to use social media to crowd source parts of their constitution, you also have elected leaders tweeting mind-numbingly bigoted, racist, sexist and outrageous things that make you wonder what exactly the PR department thinks it’s doing and how exactly the people allowed someone such as this to come to power.

To sum it up, social media has definitely affected governance and how we see our leaders, though the question of whether this has been a good or bad effect is another one entirely.

At its core, social media is about maintaining democracy. With its ease of access and a multitude of platforms, it allows anyone and everyone to have a voice. So what social media really does is bring up the age-old question of democracy– while everyone is entitled to an opinion and every opinion deserves to be heard, are all opinions truly equal? With like buttons and follower statistics and comment features, it is becoming increasingly apparent that some opinions are more popular than others. This allows politicians to play to a particular crowd, so to speak, without repercussions as they are completely aware that there will be people who support their ideas, even if these ideas are hypocritical and contradictory to their own views.

This might lead to people saying that democracy has been tampered with, but can we really say that’s true when democracy has and always will be about what the people want? Can we then blame politicians for saying such increasingly outrageous things when it is our own culture that has bred it into them?

The pros of democracy have always been visible to the common people of the world. It is only those who want power who want to do away with it and its mechanisms of checking such power. What social media really and truly does, is highlight the fact that while democracy is certainly the best of the systems of governance available to us, it is not, by any stretch of imagination, a perfect system. This is because democracy is about people and democratic governments the world over are run by people. Human beings are far from a perfect species and, as such, there is no way that we can create a perfect system. We can only create one that is more just and inclusive and treats more and more people as equal.

Social media, despite its many flaws, is helping us achieve this by exposing the cracks in the foundation of a centuries-old system that sometimes needs a little restructuring if we are to continue to maintain its objectives, which are liberty, fraternity, and equality for all.

Photo: Josh Haner/New York Times/Redux

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