The original soap box was the first “soapbox” and social media has evolved to be a digitalized version. In the 1870s, many people gathered in London’s Hyde Park Speakers Corner to talk about religion and politics.
Social media used to be a platform where users “exposed” personal details. Some believed it necessary to share the small things of their daily lives. They could be called “the good times” when compared to the evolution of social media.
Today, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have become echo chambers for espousing political views – and where there is all too often an absence of civility for those with differing opinions.
Craig Barkacs (professor of business law in the Master in Executive Leadership Programs and MBA Programs at Knauss School of Business, University of San Diego) said, “On the subject of politics, the social media is where civility & decorum go to the death.”
The problem is partly due to our ingrained tendency to share too much on social media. This sharing only has recently moved to politics. Furthermore, these platforms promote this kind of interaction.
It’s anonymous. So why not share any thoughts that come to your mind? James Bailey from the George Washington University School of Business, said that it feels therapeutic.
Social media can be seen as a digital copy of “soap box” pundits who first appeared in 1870s London at Speakers Corner. There, many would meet to discuss politics and religion.
“The Unhinged Preached Their Political Gospels.” Bailey said that some people listened and others didn’t. “But that didn’t stop those crusaders – righteous or not – from taking the stage. As such, the social media platforms of today are perfect for actors who want to remain anonymous and return home.
It was not common for people to talk about politics or other hot topics in polite company. However, this may no longer be an issue today as many people are not very polite when using social media.
This is compounded by the fact every social media voice carries the potential weight to be a pundit. Meanwhile, elected officials are increasingly relying on these platforms to hear what the people have to say.
The problem with social media echo chambers isn’t whether they are. According to Anne Washington (assistant professor of data policy in NYU Steinhardt’s Online EdD program), the problem lies with politicians listening to social media. It is simple to analyse, but it can be difficult to interpret.”
However, many of the sentiments expressed on social media are not correlated with real voters. Washington suggested that a politician who listens to social media can be likened to someone trying to hear the person at the next table. The most powerful voices are those that carry the greatest weight.
She said that social media was not intended to allow politicians to hear all their constituents. Geography, while not as important in the Internet, is vital for representational democracy. Political leaders still have to understand who is actually a voter.
This discourse is good for the platforms
The platforms won’t try to resolve the discourse that they created simply because it makes sense for them.
“As to whether people share too much social media content when it comes down to politics, I was reminded of the question: ‘Is gambling at a casino good for you?’ Barkacs stated that yes, it is for the casino.
Accordingly, it’s likewise good for social media platforms when people rant about their political views—the angrier and more fear-inducing, the better. This helps users stay engaged. Additionally, anger and fear can become powerful emotions that grip people and are why politicians use them so much.
Barkacs stated that “for the rest of us however, however, it can be difficult to stomach social media politicking and we would like to think that we should know better than not to go there.” Social media can be a problem, but it is not the only one. For their political purposes, unscrupulous politicians deliberately incite outrage, lies and anger on social media. This makes agitated partisans and addictive platforms and cynical manipulationators an especially sinister mix.
Today, anyone can make their opinions heard from anywhere. Worse, the keyboard warriors behind the insults are now anonymous and can hide in their anonymity. Although they are not able to flip everyone’s view with social media, this is an impossible feat. However, they can amplify the views of others who have similar beliefs.
Barkacs stated that they are “profoundly self-obsessed” and often lose sight of their ironic stew, which is a mixture of cowardices and narcissism. “The greater danger is how observers in nominal agreement with highly partisan keyboard warriors might be swayed to intensify – and in some cases radicalize—their once more moderate views, thus becoming more receptive to outlandish claims and unsupported conspiracy theories, which, of course, exacerbates polarization.”
It’s not just an American problem
This could be dismissed as an American phenomenon. However, it’s clear from the way it stirred up protesters and caused division across Europe that this “anti-social media” era is a worldwide problem.
A few years back, UK Parliament’s Health and Wellbeing Service recommended that all MPs close their Twitter accounts because of the abuse they were receiving.
“Social media echo chambers are not just a U.S., problem – nations around the world are struggling with these questions,” said Washington. Washington said that viral social media posts could have been a factor in the Philippine election of 2022. Canada: The Trudeau administration was forced to address questions regarding international interference with elections this month. Remember that Cambridge Analytica’s initial successes stories in advertising referred to the assistance of politicians in Indonesia, Kenya and other countries.
The United States might look at the efforts of other countries to solve these issues.
Barkacs said that “Other nations are trying to find legislative solutions.” The Network Enforcement Act was passed in Germany by 2017. It required that social media platforms take down hate speech within 24hrs of being notified. Japan’s parliament passed legislation that makes ‘online insults’ an offense. This could land you in jail for up to one year. The polarization problem is not curable.
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