How social media is changing political conversations (and how we see the world)

I happened to stumble upon this story on Donald Trump and the story about a gorilla today. This is the reason why you’re reading this now. I had to put my thoughts in a blog.

A caveat: The following insights are my own, and are based on observations about media (the mainstream ones) and the political climate in my country.They are not a reflection of any organization that I am currently working with.

Social media is our primary source for news. This is a no-brainer. We spend most of our media consumption time on social (okay, Facebook). Thanks to smartphones, we’re always-on. The concept of prime time is gone. It’s prime-time, all the time. You don’t go looking for news today. News streams in your feeds, 24 hours a day.

Social media is changing the way we see the world. We as human beings tend to like opinions we agree with. We reject ideas that makes us uncomfortable. That goes with the people and friends you make on social. During the Philippine elections for the president and vice president, lines were drawn. You were either for or against this popular candidate. Our opinions were shaped by things we saw on social. And we kicked out and trampled those who disagreed with us — turning us into a mob.

Social media is changing the way society informs itself. This line I borrowed from ex-boss Alan Soon. I love what he said as I shared the article about Donald Trump and media’s symbiotic relationship. He stressed, “It’s no longer media informing society. It’s the other way around. And we’re only just starting to see how this affects elections around the world.” He went on to note that social has “disrupted politics at so many levels.” Agree! I will venture further to say that social may even have a direct effect on indecisive voters who make decisions based on information they pick up on social (read: Friends and peers).

Social media spreads and amplifies lies and buries the truth quickly. Sad but true. Most people take anything they find on social as gospel truth. There is no longer time to reflect and verify information and news appearing on your feeds. Thus, lies become viral, as Alan Soon puts it. Big, mainstream media organizations still believe that society goes to them to get informed and learn about the world. Sorry folks, social makes the world go round these days.

Social media, media and politicians have a symbiotic relationship. From the previous article I just shared in the beginning, media critiques blamed media itself for creating Donald Trump. This article says it best: “One could see a lot of dysfunction in the strange, unending cycle of Trump/gorilla coverage. The same press that would even critique the critiques (like we are doing right now) are still feeding the beast (or the gorilla), you could say. The relationship between Trump and the press and social media this week could be seen as dysfunctional. But it can also be seen as something else: symbiotic.” To put it simply, media needs politicians, as politicians need media. Then comes social media — it needs both media and politicians to thrive. While social media would not dare interfere nor influence the relationship between media and the politicians, social is the platform where these information are exchanged. The big difference: your audience is not only listening. It is highly and directly engaged with media and the politicians themselves. And that makes a whole lot of difference on how society informs itself.

Lessons on social media & designing real change

As I conclude, I recall this talk by Wael Ghonim on “designing social media for real change” on TED Talks. He shares several insights about social media and its role in influencing change in a society. I’m quoting them here, so as not to miss a point:

“First, we don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.

“Second, we create our own echo chambers. We tend to only communicate with people that we agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow and block everybody else.

“Third, online discussions quickly descend into angry mobs. All of us probably know that. It’s as if we forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.

“And fourth, it became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs. And once we do that, it lives forever on the Internet, and we are less motivated to change these views, even when new evidence arises.

“Fifth — and in my point of view, this is the most critical — today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of social media and what it has done to revolutionize 20th century media, where media often dominates the conversation. However, as social becomes ingrained in our lives, it is apt that we understand this revolutionary platform, which Clay Shirky described as a force that could make history back in 2009.

“ As recently at last decade, most of the media that was available for public consumption was produced by professionals. Those days are over, never to return,” he said in that TED Talk.

It’s 2016: It’s about time that we revisit our social media and see if we are NOT prone to repeat our mistakes in history.

About the author: This writer spends most of his time now at his desk, thinking about his potential and loyal audience, which he need to do to keep his job. On weekends, he teaches young minds about digital media and the Internet and the change it has brought about to society.

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