Can Social Media Save Democracy?
Can one ordinary citizen change the world?
It is difficult to estimate the number of people who use Twitter to try to change our dysfunctional political environment. According to Twitter, the number of active monthly users is 241 million, sending a combined total of 500 million tweets per day. If we multiply that one ordinary citizen by 241 million, we have great potential to spread a message of political harmony. Sadly, this is not everyone’s intent. But it's not just the numbers that matter.
Social media sites provide a way of forming a loose-knit alliance of like-minded individuals. Twitter users can easily find dozens, hundreds, even thousands of friends and followers at a speed that would have been unheard of 20 or even 10 years ago.
While 140 characters is not nearly enough to fully communicate many messages, the ability to quickly share simple ideas or links to longer ones is phenomenal. Most of us simply don't have the time to scan the vast array of available news and information. But by following the right Twitter users, blogs, or other social media, we can use the power of many to locate and cull the information most pertinent to our interests.
In a previous IVN article, former Senator Olympia Snowe expressed the importance of harnessing the power of social media to amplify our voices in order to be heard by party leaders in Congress. Snowe explained how ordinary citizens can team together to support ideas for bridging the political divide.Providing a means to broadcast personal views is one way people can use social media to make a difference. Another way individuals and groups use social media to achieve change is by connecting with others to combine energies toward a shared goal.
Rick Bayan’s The New Moderate blog is for centrist thinkers who are “fed up with feeling excluded from the national debates on politics, culture, and religion." His goal is to create a dynamic and vibrant community that can “make its voice heard above the din of dueling left-wingers and right-wingers.” Bayan, an author and former advertising copywriter, describes himself as a humorist, baby boomer, and battled moderate thinker. The New Moderate is a community for “people like us,” he writes.
Another blog, The Center Strikes Back, is written by Larry Bradley, a political scientist and historian. Bradley uses the blog to supplement and enhance the ideas put forth in his book, Neither Liberal Nor Conservative Be: An Action Plan for People Disgusted by Polarized Politics. The book, he claims, is for “people who want to understand today's political landscape and how to take action if they aren't happy with what they see.” His weekly postings cover topics including party politics, elections, legislation, psychology, and capitalism.
Others employ a coordinated social media approach, combining blogs or websites with Twitter and other vehicles.
Chris Stockwell (@CentristsUnite) stands for “good governance led from the center.” Stockwell launched the website, American Centrist, just days after the debt ceiling crisis, followed by his blog, The Center Is Not The Problem, and Twitter account.
"Helping our nation find a new path forward is my passion," said Stockwell. "I try to flesh out lots of topics, and offer up a set of common beliefs.”
He explained how his social media efforts gave him a voice to help the country move beyond gridlock.
David Bangs (@ImpactDemocracy) uses Twitter “as a research project and a way of promoting cross awareness” to help others see the merits of new or opposing ideas. Bangs’ concerns include “the corrupting influence of money, the polarization of a two party system, shallow and misleading media, and a profound lack of respect among people who hold different points of view.”
“It isn’t just Twitter,” he added, describing other coordinated efforts to achieve his goals.
MiddleClassModerate (@MidClassModerat) enjoys the anonymity of Twitter. He is critical of those who disrupt government functioning and obstruct voting rights and access. He explained how the best approach to problem solving is to seek multiple solutions from every achievable angle:
“What I try to achieve with my message every day: be cordial but firm, encourage looking at solutions from multiple perspectives.”
Christie St. Clair (@ChristieFindlay) has worked extensively as a digital consultant. She describes herself as “one of the most prolific Tweeters you've never heard of.”
St. Clair has worked behind the scenes with The Centrist Project, The Common Sense Coalition, and Comeback America. Twitter, she said, “gives individuals an enormous microphone” which levels the playing field for anyone trying to shape the national conversation at a grassroots level. “Most of all, Twitter lets me continually remind everyday Americans that we get a say, too."PeacefulRevolution (
@ActDontReact) is the Twitter account of a self-proclaimed left-leaning and passionate progressive. “If we begin with love instead of hate, imagine what kind of world we could create” she states in her profile.
Preferring to remain anonymous, she is admittedly one-sided. While maintaining that “you can’t fix stupid,” she said she uses Twitter to educate people on facts and on what is important by posting credible information for them to read.
“Some choose not to,” she added.
Often, there is a tendency on Twitter to “preach to the choir,” following and engaging with only those of like minds, with little impact on fostering change. But as many have discovered, open, civil dialogue between opposing viewpoints goes a long way toward exploring, understanding, and resolving our differences. I recently began a small campaign on Twitter to encourage people to move outside their comfort zone using the hashtag, #FollowPeopleYouDisagreeWith.
Utilizing social media makes it easy for anyone to become part of a larger effort to change the world. I urge everyone to find and follow individuals and groups that promote nonpartisan, civil, fact-based discussions on the various issues we face -- to help narrow the divisiveness found in politics today. However, if your persuasion leads you to follow the tea party or an ultra-liberal ideal, there are movements and like-minded people out there for you as well.But, There is great power in numbers – E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.
This is the sixth and final article in a series about relatively small, lesser-known, grassroots movements hoping to reverse the trend of congressional stalemate, political divisiveness, and the lack of civility in public discourse in America.
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About the Author
My hope is that bipartisan and nonpartisan solutions will become the new ideal in American politics. I founded The C-Plan in 2013, a movement to help overcome partisan divisiveness: "C" for Civility, Cooperation, Collaboration, Compassion, Consensus & Compromise. Join me at http://www.TheCPlan.org/join. When not writing or advocating the cause, I am a quantitative researcher and own a survey management firm, DataStar, Inc., in Waltham, MA.