If you use any form of social media–and, odds are, you do–you probably found yourself struggling to avoid the relentless bombardment of election drama during the past ten or so months. This election has been groundbreaking in so many ways; for one, the proliferation of the use of social media for campaigning has had profound effects on the way Americans interpret their democracy. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s use (or abuse) of social media during election season encouraged and sometimes even demanded millennials to become more involved in the election than ever before.
But, social media is very inclusive: the flow of information is definitely not limited to one person or one group. This election has demonstrated the overwhelming influence that social media can have, and how some struggle to harness its power. People are free to post whatever they want, and view whatever they want, which often means that people reinforce their own biases through selectively internalizing the campaign updates they really want to hear. Disregarding the bipartisan nature of our democracy, social media in the election isolated different groups across the country by encouraging political divisiveness.
When we choose what we read or what videos we watch on Facebook, we are filtering information. We often do it subconsciously, but social media outlets are just as guilty of restricting and “personalizing” the information we’re exposed to. In this election, falsified articles on Facebook appeared on people’s feeds and spread across the web like a virus. Social media platforms should be held accountable not only for the information they allow to be featured, but also how they choose to allow people to have access to this information.
If you were to ‘like’ articles supporting Trump and Republican ideas in general, it’s not very likely that many pro-Clinton, liberal articles showed up on your feed. Sure, this news-filter may be convenient at any other time, when you really want to focus on articles about gluten-free baking recipes or the latest music festival. But when you’re trying to educate yourself about candidates’ policies and stances, it’s probably best that you see both sides. After all, there are two sides to every story, even if many Americans may not want to accept that.
Social media is a relatively new weapon in a candidate’s arsenal of campaign tactics, but the media in general has long been one of the most important determinants of a candidate’s public popularity. The media should be responsible for reporting on important updates and informing the electorate; the media’s influence cannot be underestimated. In this election, however, the media simply got it wrong. Polls leading up to the election showed Clinton in a comfortable lead over Trump, perhaps giving ambivalent democrats the ease of mind to forgo voting. Approximately 46% of eligible voters neglected to vote in this election, and it’s impossible to say that over a hundred million voters all had the same mindset. Also, media outlets tended to air on the side of sensationalism and drama–and both candidates ensured the media had a lot to work with– meaning that the information of substance that truly reached its audience was relatively sparse.
But, the burden of the blame does not rest solely on the shoulders of the media. Americans, too, are responsible for educating themselves and looking beyond the dramatic headlines. Americans must also recognize that participation is the most important function of our democracy, and, without it, our democracy will yield unexpected–and in some cases, unwanted– results. Our democracy was founded on compromise, and compromise means taking into account and respecting different opinions on any given subject. As we’ve always managed to do, it’s time to learn something and move forward. Both media outlets and American citizens must remain committed to seeking the truth and being open to respecting everyone’s opinions.
Graphics: Jessica Chang