By Alex Lazo
How many times have you heard a friend say “I’m off the grid right now, I deleted Instagram,” because I have definitely heard it more times than I can count. Obviously, this is a figure of speech, but in today’s Digital Era most people take this quite literally. And while I will admit to saying this an embarrassing amount, I do think this phrase says something about how deeply social media is embedded in daily life.
When considering how politics and current events are taught today and in comparison to fifty years ago, there is a vast difference in the role that the media plays. Before digital and big tech media, politics and news was delivered through traditional forms of media such as television, newspaper, or radio. Relevant and reliable information was reported. Constructive conversations and free thought also played a role in how society communicated opinions.
These days, society is overwhelmed by various Internet sources and the plenitude of social media platforms. It feels as if politics has engulfed the ordinary citizen through the increased use of rapid communication enabled by high-speed Internet. In many ways, the Internet has broadened communication sources through a wide range of online news outlets. In principle, this should be a beneficial application, especially since studies have found that the increase in political engagement is linked with people using contemporary media as a source of information.
Contrary to this, however, digital dependency on contemporary media can also be damaging and there are disadvantages associated with it, specifically in areas of mental health, communication skills, and in general, divisiveness in society. Studies have concluded that although the use of social media has increased awareness of political topics and current events, it only sometimes properly educates or informs the public. Reports of ‘fake news’ or partial truths to a story taint and misinforms the reader resulting in a distorted point of view or losing objectivity.
127 found that even Denison’s finest have fallen victim to the addictive nature of social media, with roughly 79% of students reporting spending AT LEAST three hours of their day using their phones. As shown below, the vast majority of these students also check their social media apps multiple times a day.
While it should not be surprising that young adults demonstrate addictions to their phones and social media, the magnitude of Denisonians exhibiting this poses a potential threat to the community.
Contemporary media hurts political knowledge and participation through misinformation. The simplicity of scrolling through social media and grazing through a quick news blurb has convoluted the idea of being politically active. Digital media is now the highest consumed news source form, which adds an extra layer of complexity when it comes to deciphering the truth. Considering the operation and structure of social media, it also provokes the spread of misinformation because it limits characters and is therefore selective in what facts are included. Pairing this with the fact that people feel more comfortable saying things behind a screen they would not otherwise say in person, the narrative is quickly skewed to be uncontrollable.
Given that the figure below highlights that a large sum of Denisonians have identified that their social media feed projects a profound amount of political content, we can assume that a fair amount has fallen victim to the misinformation web. Now, people think they are well-informed about the world because they are exposed to news content through their social media feeds. However, these headlines and posts may be frequent forms of clickbait and can often be misleading.
Today’s contemporary media acts as a catalyst for the spread of misinformation, making it nearly impossible to intervene with its spread because in the online world, “The platforms profit from it; the more outrageous the content the more people interact with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or false, as long as they engage.” In other words, it is highly laborious for social media users to decode fake news from actual news.
Because misinformation strives to tap into the emotional psyche for a profitable gain, it tends to generate political extremism. Political parties have successfully played into this notion, creating social media pages that hyper-accentuate one-sided ideologies. Politicians are able to tailor their messages, targeting specific audiences toward extreme partisanship. Radical responses to this are ubiquitous and Denison is no exception. 127 found that Denisonians subscribe to these tactics with a shockingly strong level of endorsement for political violence.
Thus, while social media holds tremendous value in raising awareness about politics, its addictive nature and ability to spread misinformation like a virus arguably outweigh the positive implications. Social media exacerbates political extremism and this has penetrated Denison’s community. So wake up people!!! It is time to “get off the grid” and maybe turn on a verified news podcast (at the very least).
Alex Lazo is a proud worker of the intramural sports league at Denison University. Some say she is drunk with power here – passing judgment and making questionable referee calls on various sports that she knows very little about. Her whistle was almost confiscated, but alas she prevails.