Currently our world is going through a massive shift. The pandemic has changed our lives and the communities where we live. But the massive shift I am referring to is that of the new era from mass communication to “networked communications” (Anderson, 2021).The digital revolution has arrived! Now, using such social media platforms such as Facebook, and Twitter, information can be shared by hundreds of people instantly. There has been much discussion lately about this massive change and how social media platforms influence not only ecommerce, but politics and ultimately democracy. On the surface social media is inclusive and creates equality. It allows anyone, with access to a computer, to join and share opinions and ideas. It also allows the public to spread their ideas quickly without credentials or fact checks. Now that we are fully immersed in this new era, how to we ensure it doesn’t infringe on our democratic way of life?
Government organizations and corporations have access to these platforms in the same way as the public. In a case of crisis communications, such as the pandemic, social media offers a way to get critical information out to the public that can increase their safety. In addition, for grass roots movements, social media platforms have contributed to the sharing of information to strengthen movements such as “Black Lives Matter”. The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. reports on how American’s feel on various social issues. A recent survey found that “Roughly a quarter (23%) of adult social media users in the United States – and 17% of adults overall – say they have changed their views about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media in the past year” (Perrin, 2020). There is no doubt social media does challenge us to form opinions on issues from the mundane to critical issues affecting our world.
In January 2021, Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, had his social media accounts removed. Facebook was first to act and next Twitter. As Jullian C. York points out in her article “It’s taken Donald Trump to show social media giants the meaning of moderations”, she outlines how “millions of people find their content or accounts removed from these platforms every day, often for far lesser offences” (York, 2020). York’s feeling of glee, regarding Trump’s censorship was quickly replaced by concerns regarding what this means for our freedom to express ourselves in public forums. She call for the social media companies to become more transparent regarding their policies. Regarding content issues and the removal of accounts, The Pew Research Center also reported that “A sizable majority of U.S. adults (66%) say social media companies have a responsibility to remove offensive content from their platforms, but just 31% have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in these companies to determine what offensive content should be removed” (LaLoggia, 2020). Clearly, there is concern leaving this critical task up to the companies themselves. There is no doubt that government and the public need to play a role in deciding how to regulate this industry.
In Michael Kent’s article “Using Social Media dialogically” he states that “The Internet broke the illusion of shared public knowledge and forced people to individually decide what to pay attention to. Every citizen is now a media gatekeeper” (Kent, 2013). He believes this has led to a situation where companies spend more time worrying about what to post than their own communication goals. “The medium has become the message” (McLuhan, 2011), as stated by communications guru Marshall McLuhan, who predicted this back in 1967. The public is now responsible for deciding where to get their news and to conduct their own fact checking.
Kent, like York, believes that social media platforms need to more transparent about their internal algorithms and policies. But Kent takes the argument further by suggesting that Public Relations professionals need to use social media platforms to encourage dialogue and ultimately communities (Kent, 2013). “Rather than social media being a cheap and easy way to reach stakeholders and publics with organizational messages, social media should be envisioned as interpersonal and group communication tools, and not a replacement for a weakened mass media” (Kent, 2013 p. 341). Kent suggests we need to move away from the mass media method of communicating on social media platforms, where the message is one way and dominated by promotion and advertising, to one where relationship and community building is a priority (Kent, 2013).
Social media and the wide spread availability of the internet has changed how we receive information. This new technology has both positively and negatively affected how we communicate. Although it has created communities to change opinions, such as “Black Lives Matters”, it also has provided an unregulated market where information sources go unchecked and politicians can use platforms solely for their own promotion. This new era of “networked communications” has created challenges that will not be easily resolved. It is not only up to the government, but also professionals in Public Relations, Digital Marketing and those working for Social Media platforms to create a better system where opinions are encouraged.
Anderson, Benjamin. (2021) Lecture 2, Communications 130, Simon Fraser University.
Jullian C York (2021). It’s taken Donald Trump to show social media giants the meaning of moderation. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/11/donald-trump-social- media-giants-twitter-facebook-censored
Kent, M. L. (2013). Using social media dialogically: Public relations role in reviving democracy. Public Relations Review, 39(4), 337-345. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.07.024
LaLoggia, J. (2020, August 14). U.S. public has little confidence in social media companies to determine offensive content. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact- tank/2019/07/11/u-s- public-has-little-confidence-in-social-media-companies-to- determine-offensive-content/
McLuhan, M. (2011). Medium is the message: An inventory of effects. Corte Madera: Gingko Press.