Quick Thoughts On Social Media’s Election 2016 Impact

A former student interviewed me via email about the impact of social media on the soon-to-be-over presidential race. Here’s what I said:

1. In your own personal experience, do you see political talk on your social media accounts? Is this talk accurate and factual or simply opinion/nonfactual?

All the time, which I guess means the old adage that religion and politics aren’t party conversation does not apply to social media.

It’s not so much that the information I see on SM is inaccurate, it’s just that it tends to be something that confirms the point of view of whoever posts it. Liberal friends have posted articles that paint their candidate in a favorable light and vice versa. So it’s really a case of picking and choosing the facts that support the individual poster’s opinion.

2. Pew Research Center has found as of 2016, two thirds of Facebook users get their news on the site. Do you think this can be harmful during the election season? Could this have a negative effect on outcome of the election?

It’s hard to say. I’m always worried that people aren’t getting exposed to differing points of view and especially concerned that social media — despite its promise to bring people together — — makes people less likely to listen to why someone supports a candidate that they oppose.

On the other hand, when I turn on the TV, it’s mostly horse-race coverage of the campaign: who is up and who is down in the latest poll. Some of the more substantive discussions I have seen during this campaign have been on social media. Plus it gives the real life context: if friend who is a public high school teacher posts and comments on the charter school initiative in Massachusetts, that gives me a little more insight and understanding than if I just read a newspaper article that quotes a teachers union spokesperson.

3. Are there benefits to people using social media to get their news?

I think it should be part of someone’s information diet. The problem is, it’s often the easiest way to get news and, through filtering, it gives us news that doesn’t always challenge our own worldview. It’s really up to the individual to seek out other news sources and look for the parts of the story that aren’t showing up in social media.

The other concern I have with social media news consumption is it is really just headline consumption. There’s a lot of retweeting of articles without having actually read them beyond the headline, and that just puts a lot of noise into the echo chamber.

4. During such a technologically booming period where smart phones and social media apps are so popular, what can be done to inform the public on sourcing credible outlets to educate themselves on our current politics?

I’d like to think the big social media outlets would take on more responsibility to help people automate their media literacy, but I also understand that’s not what they’re in business for. So it really comes down to the individual to make a conscious effort to be media literate.