Social media will save democracy (or kill it)

The recent shift in public opinion about same sex marriage has been attributed to many things, a younger electorate, TV shows about gay people, improvements in the economy, and Satan. But I think social media is a driving factor. I don’t think all that many people objected to it in the first place. We have had a society driven by special interests in the past. The special interests were organized, in communication, and as a result over-represented in the traditional media which was limited in it’s coverage. Those outside the special interest group often didn’t have such a comprehensive opposition base and underestimated in size. Public opinion, especially as it influences voting, and more importantly legislative votes, was measured with polls which tend to favor the special interests. They would define the issue, and poll results were skewed toward those who had a defined stance instead of the opposition which would disappear into the “Don’t know” and “No Opinion” categories. In addition to that I think people don’t tend to answer polls honestly, somehow driven to be part of the majority rather than expressing a view perceived as unpopular. In addition, legislators were easily swayed by letter writing campaigns, believing that squeaking wheels represented a majority opinion.

Social media changes all that. You don’t need to join a political cause to participate in the argument anymore. You get to communicate anonymously with everyone, and it seems to me are being more honest in expressing their actual opinions (although maybe taking the means of that expression overboard in many cases). In the case of same-sex marriage, I think those who opposed it were a core group of people locked without thought into their opinions, and never communicating with those in opposition. If you knew someone personally who opposed SSM you might simply avoid a direct argument with that person, and your chances of interacting with a stranger who held an opinion counter to your own were pretty slim. Now with social media the interaction between opposing groups is more active, and the reality of opinions is showing through.

As I look back over time I wonder if we would have ended up in the war Iraq if there was stronger social media at the time. The Bush strategy for starting that war was based on convincing the legislature to go along with it, and using the traditional polling system and ‘Letters to your congressman’ approach to influence their decisions. If the congress had a better idea of the country’s unease with the war they might not have gone ahead so readily. Now I can’t really say if would have made a difference with Iraq, and we can’t go back in time and get everybody on Twitter and connected through blogs and message boards the way they are now, but I think it’s fair to consider that politicians didn’t have a good grasp of public opinion at the time while locked in the Washington bubble.

There is the down side of all this though, the public can be swayed to make bad decisions. Special interests groups can tailor their argument for social media, and one day there may seem to be overwhelming public support for really bad ideas. But at least for a while we will see a form of democracy which better reflects the will of the people.

Disagree on most counts. On the issue of SSM, I think there probably isn’t a good causative link between social media and changing minds on the issue. On the Wikipedia entry on polling on SSM: “Pew polling shows that older generations show less support for same-sex marriage than newer ones. Over the years 2001 through 2011, those born between 1928 and 1945 increased their support from 21% to 32%; those born between 1946 and 1964 increased their support from 32 to 37 percent; and those born between 1965 and 1980 decreased support from 49% to 46%. The generation born in 1981 and later was first tracked in 2003, when they voiced 51% support; by 2011, that figure had risen to 64%.[58]”

So the biggest increases in support for SSM come from those who are 68 and older or younger than 30. Sure, a lot of young people use social media, but old people don’t. And among other heavy users of social media – those from age 30 to almost 50 – support for SSM has perhaps even dropped a bit.

In my view, social media isn’t the death knell for other forms of political expression. It’s simply one more avenue of communication, nothing more, nothing less. It has unique advantages, to be sure, but it isn’t going to replace polls, letters to congressmen, etc.

And there’s a word for people who hold a general belief that polls are wrong: losers.

Social media lets people spend more time looking at funny pictures of cats accompanied by misspelled words, building farms that only exists on computers, and commenting on what their friends ate for dinner. I’d guess that it probably already has lead people to spend less time dealing with important issues that actually affect social well-being. In the past few years, special interest groups have grown more powerful and the government has grown less responsive to any democratic will. One need only look at the issue of the corn ethanol mandate to see that.

I’ll certainly admit to not having a cite to back it up at the moment, but concerning the 68 and older group increasing their support so significantly, could that not be accounted for by them dying off? It doesn’t seem like a stretch to assume the oldest of that group have the most regressive beliefs with respect to SSM. In addition, although as a percentage of the total population I’m sure they have low representation on social media, the growth in representation over 10 years is probably pretty respectable compared to the other age groups.

I think most people just use social media to view sources that already agree with their views. Also, social media can delude people into thinking they’ve “done something.” BLAWG!

There is a lot of echo chamber effect in the content of current social networking websites.
You can choose what to read and are supported in your choices by your ‘friends’.
Because otherwise, they wouldn’t be your ‘friends’, would they?

One of the drawbacks of the “instant democracy” of the internet age is faddishness. The Trayvon Martin affair is of note: it zoomed into the foreground…and then vanished again. The Terri Schiavo case is also cautionary.

A properly working democracy depends on deliberation, and endless re-consideration. When issues “go viral” they lose out on this. We suffer from the impulse to a rush to judgement.

My advice is for people actually involved in formulating and implementing public policy to put up, to a limited degree, protective firewalls between themselves and the internet. We have a representative system of government for a very good reason.

If people spens any more time on the web when they are supposed to be working (you know, producing goods and/or services of value), the question of type of government will become moot - there won;t be any wealth to distribute.

No, I’m not entirely joking - how many of you are at work? Where did the NSFW tag come from?

Before the web, even if you didn’t have anything to do, you were still immersed in the business - your mind was drawn to the business, not some cute kittens or some slut’s boobs

I am convinced that social media is at best an innocuous time waster - a way to communicate inane thoughts and coordinate with your friends. At worst it is a mechanism to give voice and validation to the most ignorant, idiotic, and psychotic fringe elements of society.

Well, I’m old enough to remember when Windows had Minesweeper.

I’m old enough to remember water coolers and newspapers.

I’m old enough to have had Windows before Minesweeper! A friend showed it to me, and I thought it was so jazzy, I programmed it myself. (The “cascade” effect of revealing squares was fun!)

Well, actually it is still available, along with other games, the only difference is that by default (and specially in professional editions) games are not already in the basic install, but there are the ways to add them back to the desktop or tiles for Windows 8:

And for Windows 7: