Pasquino (2005), defines democracy as “the flexibility of the mechanisms and structures of accountability characterizing the political sphere.” In applying this definition to digital content, there is an implication that “democracy” in the social media domain is how platforms provide individuals with the opportunity to essentially create and consume on equal grounds. However, many factors should be taken into consideration when evaluating the validity of this concept. In this essay, I argue that social media is a significant attempt at achieving democracy amongst the public, but at times its capabilities can be used for reasons that instigate complex turmoil and the prevailing methods in which these issues are dealt with include taking measures that may contradict its inherent purpose as a space encompassing primarily democratic characteristics. Two elements I shall examine additionally are censorship as well as fake news, both in which are evidence indicating how digital platforms cannot necessarily escape a sense of hierarchal structure attached with questionable restrictive connotations.
Social media’s dominance in the current technological era places a distinguished emphasis on existing as a utilization for “user-generated” content, with anything from hashtag activism and daily vlogs to many opportunities to freely interact with others through instant messaging or comment forums. It is without a doubt a democracy in comparison to various media outlets as it enables users to easily take “the information infrastructure and tools” employed “to produce and distribute content” that profoundly allows people to produce “content” taking “digital form of personal” communication, “news, ideas and cultural products” (Flaxman et al., 2015, p. 48). As a person who is active in the digital world, being familiar with content of this nature and having a proficient understanding as to how to create as well as disseminate this content, social media’s capabilities transcends international boundaries, further prompting the public to simultaneously be creative and informative. Experiencing what the many facets of social media have to offer, both positive and incongruous, if one were to ask the question “Is social media truly a democracy?”, I would say it is in certain respects. However, it embraces numerous exceptions.
Many, if not all social networking websites harness services or regulations that involve a kind of censorial practice, especially when determining as to whether content is subjectively deemed controversial or offensive. Although media corporations maintain this standard, it has caused persisting discussion on who is in the appropriate position to decide as to what content can be consumed. Govindarajan & Ravindar (2016) maintain that “censorship,” while “implemented in any form,” for example, “in the context of social media, it is the right to freedom of speech that is under threat.” One of the main democratic components of social media is virtually anyone is given the ability to create accounts, post, tweet, etc. if connected to the internet, but these actions are not without the risk of having one’s own content taken down. Globalization and partiality will enduringly be a fundamental dispute subjected to discussion so long as “the pace at which any form of content can be” circulated “through social media” remains “tremendously high” (Govindarajan & Ravindar, 2016, p.2)
This control undoubtedly being employed directly relates to another subject matter – in terms of fake news, a recent study from the Pew Research Centre (2019) has discovered that “majorities” claim “social media companies” exercise “too much control over the news on their sites,” ultimately resulting in a less than satisfactory combination of news sources. When speaking specifically regarding falseness, studies have shown how although corporations are continuously expressing their objectives on improving incorrect information exposure through algorithmic strategies, evidently there is an overwhelming need for drastic improvement. People are still “concerned about biased and inaccurate news on social media” (Shearer & Grieco, 2019) and the negative repercussions that stem from this perpetuation is that it could plausibly initiate a causal sequence, such as further issues concerning representation and certain voices unheard. Particularly with the excess of all news genres, it is progressively apparent that in the modern day, “audiences gain much of their” knowledge “of current [events] from social media” rather than “hard news in legacy news media” (Salgado, 2018, p.321).
On the whole, along with its many advantages, social media is a democracy when deliberating its capabilities available for users. But in terms of the authority by those who influence censorship and deleting content created by the users for controversial reasons, the subject of democracy in regard to digital content remains debatable. This notion also includes the filtering of content such as news and current events. With algorithms, content censoring and intrinsically biased judgement when sifting through news that users expect to be from varying perspectives, the matter truly calls into question as to social media’s status be a true democracy or the process undertaken to improve its democratic applications.
Garrett, R. K. (2009). Echo Chambers Online?: Politically motivated selective exposure among Internet news users. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 14(2). pp. 265-285. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01440.x
Govindarajan, G. & Ravindar, N. (2016). Freedom of Expression on Social Media: Myth or Reality. Global Media Journal – Indian Edition. 7(1). pp. 1-7.
Pasquino, G. (2005). Populism & democracy. Washington, D.C.
Salgado S. (2018). Online media impact on politics. Views on post-truth politics and post-modernism. International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics. 14(3). pp. 317-331. doi: 10.1386/macp.14.3.317_1 Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/jcmc/article/14/2/265/4582957/
Shearer, E. & Grieco, E. (2019, October 2). Americans Are Wary of the Role Social Media Sites Play in Delivering the News. Retrieved from: https://www.journalism.org/2019/10/02/americans-are-wary-of-the-role-social-media-sites-play-in-delivering-the-news/