The printing press, radio and television turned the tide of politics by getting information to the masses. With social media, that information stream is instant and constant and the attention span of audiences has changed dramatically. Therefore, it requires a new kind of politician to be successful.
“But, as the Trump phenomenon reveals, it’s only a particular kind of personality that works—one that’s big enough to grab the attention of the perpetually distracted but small enough to fit neatly into a thousand tiny media containers,” wrote Nicholas Carr in Politico Magazine. “It might best be described as a Snapchat personality. It bursts into focus at regular intervals without ever demanding steady concentration.”
Fake news burns
In addition, social media perpetuates the dissemination of fake news like never before. We’ve always had it but now it can spread like wild fire and it can do just as much damage. We’ve all heard the allegations that the Russian government interfered with our free elections by spreading fake news. Sadly, those of us who clicked and shared are guilty of aiding in that interference and presumably, altering the outcome of the election.
The bright side
The story may not be all bad. Yes, attention spans are shorter. Yes, fake news can be tweeted and posted and catch fire like nobody’s business. But social media has done what print, radio and television couldn’t do. The masses are now helping to create the information so more voices are being heard and they are connecting with each other in unprecedented ways.
Referring to the Arab Spring, where Arab protesters rose up against oppression across the Middle East, Catherine O’Donnell wrote, “In the 21st century, the revolution may not be televised – but it likely will be tweeted, blogged, texted and organized on Facebook, recent experience suggests.”
(Carr, Nicholas. “How social media is ruining politics.” Politico Magazine. 2 September 2015. www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/09/2016-election-social-media-ruining-politics-213104. Accessed 18 January 2017.)
(PBS News Hour. “How online hoaxes and fake news played a role in the election.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tW-dg_IU3uM. Accessed 18 January 2017.)
(O’Donnell, Catherine. “New Study Quantifies the Use of Social Media in the Arab Spring.” UW Today. 12 September 2011. http://www.washington.edu/news/2011/09/12/new-study-quantifies-use-of-social-media-in-arab-spring/. Accessed 18 January 2017.)