It’s far from an original sentiment to claim that social media is having a corrosive effect on the fabric of social life. But this article from the Atlantic makes an intriguing argument about the impact of Twitter on the social psychology of electoral politics and the ramifications this has for social cohesion:
Political candidates and politicians have always surrounded themselves with fans, of course. They’ve often, as The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein lamented, put on blinkers when it comes to the feedback they want to receive and the media they use to receive it. But there’s something about social media — the clustering of opinion, the immediacy, the sense of hearing directly from people — that seems qualitatively different. Klein’s point in the article linked above is that the proliferation of partisan news outlets allows an elected official (or a member of the Supreme Court) to easily seek out only affirmative information.
But Klein neglects to notice that every Facebook account and tweet and retweet is itself a news outlet, as that social media company employee at The Baffler‘s bar points out. The filter provided by journalism is an accident that became essential, a way of providing information and perspective that people once couldn’t otherwise get. It is and has always been word-of-mouth brought to scale. The difference between you saying what you saw in Dallas on November 22, 1963, and what the Associated Press reporter saying what he saw was that the number of people that heard the reporter was much, much larger. Journalism has always said, “You may not have known this.” You may not have known that the restaurant you gave five stars on Yelp just failed its health department inspection. Or: You may not have known that the NSA is collecting information about every phone call you make. The official media outlets that existed when, say, Thomas Jefferson was president were more partisan than those today. But Jefferson had to work with his political opponents, had to spend time with them, had to hear their opinions in a way that Ted Cruz does not. Collins’ point isn’t just that the media is bifurcated. It’s that we can all, any of us, live in a world in which the majority of what we hear is what we want to hear.
Categories: Digital Sociology