There is no question that social networks sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus have revolutionized the way we not only communicate on a global scale, but the way we acquire and process information. As a society, we are always looking for ways to get our information faster.
The latest generation of smartphone has to allow people to get their information a nanosecond faster than the previous generation or else it is inefficient. We expect to get our news in 140 characters or less, which can often result in important information taking a backseat to the information that will garner the most clicks.Michael Austin pointed out in an article published on April 22, 2014. In the article, Austin discusses a prediction from Plato over two millennia ago that the invention of writing and universal literacy would ultimately be detrimental to human memory.
He was right and the more access we have to information, the less we rely on our ability to retain knowledge and information, which leads to a society full of people with short attention spans. Social media has a negative effect on people’s ability to focus on the long-term, which — as Austin points out — will have affect policy making decisions.
The rise of social media has also given rise to the political armchair quarterback.
This is not just a small handful of people, but thousands of people expressing themselves on a stage where all information presented is treated equally. Political commentary is then shared and retweeted so that it reverberates through ideological echo chambers of like-minded people to re-enforce these thoughts and opinions until they are treated by some as absolute truth.
This is what Paul Taylor in The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown refers to as a modern day Plato’s Cave, something that began with the emergence of cable news:
Perception gaps are as ancient as the shadows on the wall of Plato’s famous cave. But lately they’ve taken on an explicitly partisan cast— a development fueled by a change in the norms of journalism, from an era when neutral fact-based reporting was the highest calling to one in which the brightest stars in the media firmament are paid to deliver their facts premixed with partisan commentary.
Cable news quickly became a place where partisan “truth” is treated as a substitute for objective “Truth,” so much so that people now ignore experts to listen to what mainstream media personalities have to say. Social media gives these personalities an even wider audience — a larger outlet for their “truth.”
Twitter creates an environment where the scientist with years of experience in climate research is put on the same stage as the political commentator who denies climate change and has zero experience in any type of science. The opinions of a professor with a post-doctorate in Economics is lost in an ocean of tweets from people with little experience in the field or severely limited knowledge of economic theories. A person with decades of experience in foreign relations is treated the same as a person who has never even traveled out of their own state.
Everyone is free to express their opinion, but not all opinions should be treated equally. The problem with social media is the biggest microphones end up in the hands of the wrong people.
This is the problem with contemporary political discourse. We can’t hear what the experts have to say because partisan commentators are shouting as loud as they can to drown them out. They tell people to ignore the scientist, the former general, the ambassador with 20 years of foreign relations experience, the economist with the Ph.D, and to listen to them instead — and people do.
Social media has just given these partisan talking heads a larger echo chamber to reverberate their message.
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