Could Social Media Reform Save American Democracy?

When social media exploded in the mid-2000s, retweeting, sharing, and liking posts seemed to give citizens the power to share their opinions with the world. The problem, according to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, is that online social networks didn’t really end up giving everyone the voice that many thought they would. “He Empowered four groups that take advantage of the viral dynamics of social networks. That’s the far right, the far left, the trolls and Russian intelligence,” says Haidt, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “So these four groups have had a great time since 2009, using the new viral dynamics of Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. At the same time, 80% of the country feels intimidated and attacked and discouraged and disgusted. And so, they talk less”, he assures in an interview with the . You can’t have a deliberative democracy when there’s no room for deliberation.” Successful democracies are generally bound together by strong institutions and shared histories, with “high levels of trust,” but digital social networks weaken both, according to Haidt. from a merely polarized democracy, which we had in the early 2010s, to one where the norms change to be all-out war everywhere, all the time.” “You can’t have a deliberative democracy when there’s no space for deliberation. And you can’t have a liberal democracy when the illiberal left and the illiberal right dominate their respective factions,” adds Samuel Abrams, a professor of politics and social sciences at Sarah Lawrence College in New York and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, agrees that social media has been bad for democracy: “This has been as dangerous as it gets. It has s It’s been incredibly bad for the country, and incredibly bad for free speech and the spread of ideas and real speech and democratic norms and civility. It’s been a disaster,” says Abrams. “It’s absolutely contributing to our polarization because you don’t get multiple views. You don’t get diversity of viewpoints. It is very difficult to hear the other side.” Making the change If he had to venture a guess, Haidt envisions a future America that closely resembles a Latin American democracy, that is, “an unstable democracy built with flawed institutions that command little popular respect.” “I think we’re going to have a lot more constitutional crises, declining trust, and increasing political violence and political ineffectiveness,” he says, “unless we make these major changes.” The changes he would like to see include replacing traditional partisan primaries, which tend to reward politicians who cater to extremists in their party, with single contests that are open to all candidates regardless of party affiliation. The top four finishers advance to the general election. It’s already happening in Alaska, where residents voted in November 2020 to adopt open, qualifying primary elections. The second step is to make social media less toxic to democracy, he says, by requiring identity verification. People could still post anonymously or under a false name, but they would have to prove that they are a real person in a particular country. “Right now, anyone in the world, including Russia, could create hundreds of thousands of accounts every day, and many of them will not be deleted and can do whatever they want. That’s crazy,” says Haidt. “It’s crazy that we allow our public square to be so full of fake people with bad motives.” Twitter says it is working to combat fake accounts and misinformation. Last month, CEO Parag Agrawal posted that the social media platform suspends half a million spam accounts daily and blocks millions of suspected fake accounts every week. He assured that Twitter constantly updates its systems and rules to eliminate as much spam as possible and that fake accounts represent less than 5% of its users. Meanwhile, the company’s chief security and integrity officer announced Twitter’s new crisis disinformation policy aimed at elevating credible information and curbing the spread of misleading content during crises. Facebook removed 1.6 billion fake accounts in the first three months of 2022, according to the company’s quarterly transparency report released in May. The company has said its goal is to remove as many fake accounts as possible, prioritizing those seeking to cause harm through spam or financial motivations. In its quarterly report, Facebook said it continues to refine its monitoring processes. New generation Meanwhile, Abrams has some hope for the future. Fifteen years ago, he used to see a lot of political polarization among his students in classroom discussions, he says, but he noticed that it started to fade a few years ago. “They don’t like these competing narratives. They recognize that they are there. They recognize that they are dangerous or are not happy with them. The data shows this is true for both the left and the right,” says Abrams, referring to members of Generation Z, people born between 1997 and 2012, the oldest of whom is 25 years old in 2022. The data shows that this is true for both the left and the right” “They are also the least politically partisan of any cohort that we have right now in the nation. They are overwhelmingly centrist. They are overwhelmingly pragmatic and not that interested in identity politics. So what they’re trying to do is find common ground. I think this group came of age and woke up during [la era] [de Donald] Trump and say, ‘This is crazy. They don’t like that.” Haidt takes a different view of Gen Z, characterizing them as “depressed, anxious and fragile.” Either way, he says that as long as the system remains the same, it doesn’t matter if young people are increasingly interested building consensus.”As long as a small number of people can intimidate the majority, as long as a small number of people can intimidate the moderates on their side, things will not moderate, even if the average person becomes more moderate,” he says. Haidt. “As long as social networks are as they are, our country is going to fail”. Connect with the ! Subscribe to our channel Youtube and turn on notifications, or follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.




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