A few days ago, I posted a blog entitled “Stars, Stripes & Instagram: Social Media’s Impact on the Midterms.” Last night, I had the opportunity to dive even deeper into the topic, at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications’ panel “How Social Media Impacted the 2018 Midterms,” a part of the #SUSocialDemocracy series.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for any type of conversation about social media OR politics, so I was immediately drawn to attending this panel. The panelists, Jessica Baldwin-Philippi of Fordham University, Arvind Diddi of SUNY Oswego and Jon Keegan, a Newhouse graduate, were incredibly well-spoken and educated on the topic at hand, and moderator Jennifer Grygiel of Newhouse drove meaningful and insightful conversation.
While my blog post the other day focused on the many positive impacts that social media had on this year’s midterms, last night’s panel took a look at the somewhat darker side of social media’s political influence.
The night started with a conversation about none other than Facebook. Jon Keegan mentioned that “all eyes were on Facebook” this election cycle and joked about Mark Zuckerberg’s apology tour. The panelists stressed that social media giant’s like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube make a lot of big promises when it comes to protecting user’s privacy and warding off fake news, but rarely follow through successfully.
Is it the job of social platforms to protect users against propaganda and fake news? How can this be done successfully? These are two questions that are not easily answered. Tools that companies like Facebook and YouTube have tested out have proved largely unsuccessful, and recently, Google found that many people with radicalized political opinions distrust mainstream media and turn to propaganda and polarizing content on YouTube to receive their news.
The panelists’ solutions for this fake news frenzy were uplifting. They called on the public to verify, fact check and read content that doesn’t just reinforce their own beliefs, and they called on news sources to be more transparent about the way news is made, how they do their jobs and how information is verified. Panelist Arvind Diddi quoted Bob Schieffer of CBS in saying, “the democracy as we know it today needs journalism.”
If there’s one thing I learned from the seminar, it’s that journalism is not dead. Subscription rates, clicks and engagements of news sources are up since 2016. Journalism has the power to save our democracy. This gives me immense hope for our country and its political playing field. #Newhouse has instilled the power of truth in me, and I firmly believe that the truth can save us.
I leave you with a quote from Ronald Regan that panelist Arvind Diddi brought up last night: “trust but verify.”— simple advice for us all to follow in today’s political climate. #SUSocialDemocracy
Luttrell, Regina. Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.