By Dana, Ophelia, Tanya and Lucas.
How does Social Media manipulate our political knowledge ?
Everybody is aware that we live in a rapidly changing world nowadays.
Digital and social media have increased the pace at which information can be transferred. Any kind of news, opinions, incidents and everything else that could possibly happen in this world, now travel with lightning speed from country to country. It cannot be argued that we also face a lot of political and social challenges recently. The election of Donald Trump, the rise of populist parties in many different countries, including huge economies like Germany, the Netherlands and France.
It cannot be overseen that social media has a major impact on how we perceive certain political aspects. Nobody thought Trump could’ve been elected as president of the United States when he first announced his candidacy for the White House. However, after months of intense social media activity, lots of scandals and comments that interfere with how a president should behave, Donald J. Trump has finally been elected.
What did social media have to do with it?
In this article, we try to identify the tools that are being used to influence and manipulate our political opinions. We want to demonstrate how your Facebook newsfeed is forming our political opinions. Another important aspect that will be identified in this article is the increasing irrelevance for credibility of sources.
New age – new ways of acquiring information
Compared to traditional media, information flows much faster nowadays. When there was only the newspaper, it took at least a day for information about incidents to be transferred. With inventions like radio and television, news agencies had made a big step forward. The introduction of the internet however revolutionized them all. Social media platforms evolved, giving everyone on this planet a voice that can be heard. It is a platform that encourages people to interact, to socialize. But couldn’t that be a threat? No, we are not talking about cyber attacks, viruses that can be spread from computer to computer and destroy your data. We are talking about something bigger, the manipulation of your thoughts and opinions with the help of social media. Millennial, this is how we call the first digital generation that has ever lived on our beloved planet earth. Millennial grow up with iPads, Facebook, Tinder, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and many other things that no other generation could have ever dreamed of in their childhood. Of course the behavior of such a generation is therefore very different from this of a person who grew up sitting in front of the radio, trying to imagine how the football match could look like only by being able to listen to the commentator.
The American Press Institute has conducted a study that found :
So what does that tell us ? We see a diverse range of opinions on Facebook which makes us take someone’s side, someone else’s opinion. We do not form opinions ourselves anymore; we just copy those of others in our Facebook Newsfeed. We do not only take our information from news agencies anymore, but more from social media platforms and people’s comments under news revelations. This means that once we see something on social media, it could be a picture, video or just a blog post, it could heavily impact our own opinions and thoughts. Is that not a little bit scary, especially when you consider that Facebook can decide what actually appears in our newsfeed? Let’s imagine one example; Facebook has an agreement with Nike. You are a person whose profile is compiled with pictures from sports events, you tagged yourself in a football stadium several times, to put it shortly: Facebook knows you are a sports fan. Your advertisements and suggested videos and pages are obviously going to be related to the kind of sport you are into, but also your sportswear for example. Assuming that Nike and Facebook have a deal, Facebook would only show you positive things about the fair working conditions at Nike, or the incredible new material they might use in their newest football shoes. On the contrary, they would show quite the opposite about Adidas, Nike’s biggest rival. They could display pictures that show child labor and many other negative things about Adidas. Now that is the business perspective. Now imagine the same thing happens to politics. Imagine you are a Democrat, your newsfeed however only shows you bad things about your preferred political party. A wiretapping scandal, the negative impacts the democratic political actions had on the economy and some other rather negative things. At the same time the Republican party is highly praised, there are articles on how the ideas of the republican candidate could solve unemployment issues for example. Assuming you are unemployed that would really trigger your thoughts right? Social media companies are privately owned. Besides aiming to connect people, they are in business to generate profit.
Peer opinions on social media
Another perspective on social media’s impact on political opinions is formed through peers. Your friends have a huge impact on your political opinion as well, and politics is a topic that is often being discussed on social media. According to a study of the Achieve Research Agency, a majority of Millennials had posted about the issues they cared about, mainly related to political opinions the reason why it plays such a large role in elections. But not only citizens are increasingly publishing their opinions on social media. The politicians themselves probably have the largest impact, as they are stepping up their social media campaigns as well. Approximately 9% of the candidates’ budget goes to digital and social media (Forbes, 2017). Let us have a look at probably the best known social media influencers of our time: Donald Trump. He tweets several times per day, making his opinions about certain matters public. He causes people to enrage, but he also draws a lot of attention to himself. He uses provocation and fear in order to get people on his side, and as we have seen, it worked out very well for him.
Social Media can influence Millennials in two different ways (Forbes,2017):
The influence of Facebook feeds on voting patterns has been proven in a study in the journal Nature. In it, experts have analyzed certain materials re-posted by ´friends´ would increase the turnout of voters for one or another politician. Endorsements by close friends with real world ties were proven to be even more influential.
Social Media and the 2016 Elections
• Social media channels have become the main source of information.
• The credibility of those channels is often ignored, which gives rumors the chance to evolve and manipulate people’s opinions
• Social media platforms like for example Facebook are privately owned and do not have to cohere to any regulations that have a regard to truth or lie
• Rumors are shared among friends and travel through the internet at an unbelievable pace
• check the sources if you need information!
• check if the same information can be found on several websites
• try to get information from governmental websites that are relatively neutral
• don’t use Facebook as a news source, it is a place where people can share their food recipes or travel locations
American Press Institute. (2016, March 16). How Millennials Get News. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/publications/reports/survey-research/millennials-news/
Alam, S. S. (2012, September 25). Can Twitter Win Votes for Obama? Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://blogs.thenews.com.pk/blogs/2012/09/can-twitter-win-votes-for-obama/
Laser, A. (206, November 10). The Facebook feed tells the story. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2016/11/10/the-facebook-feed-tells-the-story/
Stares, L. (2016, July 6). Data Stories: Politics and Social Media. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from https://upside.tdwi.org/articles/2016/07/06/data-visualization-politics-and-social-media.aspx
Sweeney-Burke, J. (2017, February 17). JSB Talks Digital Transformation Podcast | Politics & Social Media. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://digitaltraininginstitute.ie/jsb-talks-digital-transformation-politics-and-social-media/