When considering global politics, it is difficult to perceive social media as the most influential force; however, in this digital age, it can be regarded as one of the influential forces because it has rapidly enhanced access and the way its platforms have been used. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the term powerful force may imply beneficial or damaging force. Social media’s power cannot go unnoticed. It was initially considered a trivial manner of keeping in touch and interacting with friends as well as sharing jokes and photos. However, it has become a force of change in society drawing more attention to previously unknown topics making conversations more profound, and empowering all the people in the world to create change and unite in various ways. Remarkably, social media as a mode of communicating, organizing, and connecting spreads thus making democracy far more efficient in areas of the globe that have remained resistant to change.
Social Media in Global Politics
Since the early nineties during the advent of the internet, the networked population of the world has been rising from millions to billions. Social media has also grown simultaneously as a reality in civil societies throughout the globe. This global civil society includes many entities such as various regimes, civilian populations, different companies, NGOs as well as activists. This raises the question how social media impacts the interests of nations on the global scale and how it applies to global politics. As the communication environment becomes more participatory and more saturated, the population that is already a network is getting more access to information, greater opportunities to take part in public speech, and an improved capacity to engage in collective action. As far as the political environment is concerned, the increased freedoms have been assisting in the coordination of demand for change by the public.
A phenomenon that enabled the social media to develop into a powerful force in global politics can be referred to as cyberbalkanization. This can be defined as a theory suggesting that even though the internet makes geographic challenges irrelevant, specific electronic communities continue being divided based on the common factors of interest (Ingenito 5). This implies that even though new forms of social media platforms are created each day and people of similar interests have gained the ability to unite on the common social media platforms, those who use the internet have become increasingly fragmented. On the one hand, the groups they have created enable people with common interests to take action, congregate, and share ideas. Conversely, sharing ideas with those who have mutual interests is not always effective and decreases the significance of public debates. Through decades, it has become clear that people with a common interest usually become more extreme towards the common views of the majority of the population (Sophr 151). Social media platforms assist in enhancing the filter bubbles of its users in that users view content only from people with similar ideologies and beliefs. This is not helpful to democratic processes since it affects the opportunity to conduct proper debates in social media platforms.
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Considering all the aspects, social media may not actually assist in democratization as it seems at first sight. Social media may also function as an instrument that further increases the gap between the top and the bottom. For instance, a common example noted by numerous people is the manner in which President Trump used Twitter, a social media platform, prior to, during, and after the 2016 election in the US. According to scholars, right wing populists such as Trump swiftly learnt how to take advantage of technological and communicative affordances of social and digital media and utilized them to reach bigger audiences, mobilize followers, and attain power. As such, the authenticity of Trump to the citizens and creation of the dangerous “other” on Twitter was central to winning the election in 2016.
Social media has also been utilized in spreading fake news so that countries or organizations can be destabilized. The propagation of disinformation through social media demonstrates the manner in which governments can utilize the art of communication to pass specific details to its citizens or the rest of the world. The US presidential election of 2016 can also be used to explore the aspect of false broadcasts and updates. Considering this aspect, the most effective fake news election stories that were running on Facebook created more engagement compared to the top stories of large news networks in the few months before the election that was held on 8th November. This is especially challenging for politics at the global level. In the event that fake news continually gathers more attention compared to news that is fact-checked, it will become more challenging for democratic nations to have truly democratic elections.
There is a basic assumption that freedom of communication positively influences political freedom; however, the instrumental mode of internet freedom continues being a challenge. It is not easy for outsiders to appreciate the local conditions of dissention. External support can create the risk of spoiling even peaceful opposition as being directed by external elements (Loader, Vromen, and Xenos 144). The unintended impact of new tools can expose dissidents. The demand of a government for internet freedom abroad ranges from one nation to the other being contingent on the significance of the connection resulting in cynicism concerning its motives.
As a participatory and collaborative instrument, social media links its users with each other and assists in shaping different communities. It is crucial to the delivery of public service value to citizens and assisting individuals to take part in policy-making and politics ensuring that the processes are simpler to understand through ICT. Presently, eighty percent of nations on the globe have social media option on their portals in order to encourage communication and networking with its citizens. Even though the effectiveness of these tools or the degree of their usage is yet to be ascertained, some of these nations demonstrate that they have led to the creation of new services, regulations, or policy decisions. Social media can also be an effective instrument in triggering changes in government services and policies when used effectively (Lee, So, and Leung 358). It can be used in preventing corruption since it directly reaches the citizens. In developing nations, corruption is typically associated with government services whose payments are not transparent or do not have automated processes.
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The growth of digital services has encouraged and engaged populations to become more socially responsible and increase their political involvement. However, many governments are afraid of the power that technology, especially smart media, exerts on the political involvement of citizens (Sandoval-Almazan and Ramon Gil-Garcia 367). Numerous governments are censoring prominent social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook. For instance, South Africa and China along with other nations have been passing laws that seek to regulate social media space.
Social media dominance enables citizens to quickly access government information even though there is likelihood that the legitimacy of such information cannot be validated. Through this, the organic perception in their minds will be influenced and changed; also, an induced perception, either positive or negative, will be framed. Others argue that confidential information should not be posted on social media since there is a probability of endangering lives or it can be potentially misinterpreted (Klinger and Svensson 1243). Social media was central in influencing the direction of the Arab Spring that occurred in 2011 in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt since it allowed protestors in these nations to share information and reveal the atrocities their governments had committed. Consequently, it led to mass revolts. Governments responded by attempting to enact draconian limitations on social media that included promotion of propaganda and fake news against them as well as censorship. Libya and Egypt continue experiencing major crises through the last few years together with domestic terrorism and political instability. The influence of social media prompted the Arab Spring and did not allow the political structures to evolve from autocracy to democracy.
Social media offers a powerful instrument and platform for hate speech and extremism, which are activities supposed to coerce the action of governments. Social media has been utilized to reach various goals and objectives that ended up overturning administrations, propagating smear campaigns, and meddling in the dealings of other nations. Nevertheless, it continues being a powerful technological instrument that can be used by governments to capture and understand the preferences and needs of its citizens. It can also be used to engage them on their personal terms from the start of the process when public services are being developed by agencies. Governments have been seeking ways through which they can adopt social media to the manner in which they conduct their e-services attempting to align their strategies accordingly. It would be wiser for governments to explore the manner in which social media can enable them to conduct operations and processes in a manner that is different from what they have been doing previously. This entails making social media policies in collaboration with the citizens.