Where do consumers turn in our overwhelming constant stream of news? Is social media impacting democracy? What are the implications for an increasing social media-user base? A recent article from the Economist explores how social media has the potential to impact democracy. Twitter, the epitome of instant communication, plays a significant role in extensive political coverage in mainstream media, as it has the ability to reach millions. Social media makes it easier for interests to establish and unify, therefore creating political and social movements. These outlets give power to those whose voices otherwise would not be heard.
In contrast, some argue that social media is also making politics more “chaotic” by increasing the chance of unpredictable mobilizations. Success with social media movements depends the participants having the “right mindset.” Mobilizations are starting from the bottom up, making society more inclusive of accepting change with all types of people.
However, big data in democracies can play an impeding role in society. Big data allows marketers to track your viewing history to project data and use that towards consumer research. In our digital era, technologies have the power of storing data. According to The Economist, the vast world of the internet and data are impacting democratic and political processes. Democracies are changing due to the fact that citizens’ relationships with those in power are becoming interconnected through social media. Data is predicted to play a large role in impacting political election outcomes.
Data information can be used to target voter groups and increase voter turnout. Where the controversy lies is on whether or not this information should be used to try and influence what specific candidate the public will vote for. At the local level, digital technologies have improved participation in decision-making from the bottom up. However, information flow is no longer a product of “governments and mass media”. Data has the capacity to make things more regulated in a society and actually limit the free flow ability of social media. Big data is argued to actually help those who are in power.
The role of social media in society is still in the introduction phase, as it will become increasingly relevant in the future. The Economist predicts it will be possible to forecast social media surges and maybe even generate them, with Facebook and Google having the access to media data and the research capabilities. Social media are making societies more democratic, but will also give those in power new tools of control. In the future, we will have to choose how data should be regulated, and what role we want it to play for society. The impact the digital era will have on democracies is entirely up to how the world chooses to use and regulate it.