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It is time for politicians to give up social media


Social media reward performance against actual politics and impede productive and nuanced political discourse.

Our societies are more polarized than ever and social media is the root of the division. Instead of feeding the beast by focusing on virality, clout and catchy slogans, politicians need to grapple with the profound questions and new guidelines that will help us rebuild from the pandemic.

Politicians across the board must ditch the Twitter feuds and virtue signal ads. Social media destroy our politics as the medium shapes – and breaks – the message.

The temptation is understandable: adolescents between the ages of 16 and 24 view social media platforms as their primary news source significantly more often, at 36 percent, compared to 14 percent in the general population.

But young people on social media don’t get involved in politics. At best, they are concerned with the performance of politics. It’s not the same.

This achievement wastes our time, that of the media and politicians. Too many news cycles were picked up by a tweet or Instagram photo rather than political debate.

Not all media are suitable for all purposes. Social media is great for targeting small businesses or building a supporter community around a startup, but it’s just not designed for the depth, nuance, and debate that political discourse demands.

The term “flow” was first coined in the 1970s by the Hungarian psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi to describe a feeling of complete concentration on a single task, from climbing to surgery. More recently, the concept of river has been used as a design concept to describe both video games and social media; Both are designed to keep us entertained for as long as possible.

The only content that really works and scrolls “flow” on social media is the simplest and most dramatic.

But the square bracket of politics just doesn’t fit the round hole in social media. 38 percent of online users stop reading a news article before they even have to scroll. Those who finish the article are a minority.

Even existential questions – questions about life and death and the politics that make the difference between the two – can be turned into viral cannon fodder through social media.

A full 24-hour news cycle was spent focusing on, for example, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s use of the word “Cower” in relation to Covid-19. Was that helpful and for whom? Or was it just another example of the kind of faux outrage that’s good for social media but bad for all of us?

Do we also believe that Labor MP Dawn Butler’s breach of parliamentary protocol to label Boris Johnson a liar was done to create accountability and provide effective opposition, or for the viral factor?

Most people think that social media affects the length of the content. But it not only shortens the content, it also changes its style. In order for users to stay focused and online, they need to be presented with content they are most likely to be engaging with, creating the “echo chamber effect”.

In the age of Trump, Brexit and the Black Lives Matter movement, Western democracies are more polarized than ever. And it shows: One study found that more than half of Americans believe Americans are in a “cold civil war.”

When we scroll through our news feeds, we assume that everyone thinks the same as we do. This is due to a phenomenon that Nobel Prize winner and psychologist Daniel Kahnemann called the “availability effect”. The more we observe an opinion or an event, the more often we believe it is occurring.

This is what makes social media echo chambers so dangerous – and why politicians are not allowed to participate. It is echo chambers that make us so outraged when we meet people whose opinions differ from ours; we assume that opinions are ridiculous because we are simply not used to seeing them or engaging in them.

Each type of media works for different proposals. Social media is the cheapest and most powerful way for companies to address customers and for company founders to build their networks. But politics is about more than “buying my product”.

We used to rely on manifestos to decide who to vote for. They were much longer than 280 characters – and for good reason.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, positions, or editorial guidelines of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please email them to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

Source: TRT World


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