The rise of social media has transformed politics. From Instagram to Twitter, Facebook and underground sites like Reddit, people are now able to engage in political discourse with the tap of a finger.
Increased accessibility to political discourse has increased awareness about the most prominent political issues. Nowadays, one executive order signed by the President can reverberate across social media platforms. As hashtags trend and marches are planned, groups are able to organize around causes faster than ever before.
When PresidentTrump ordered the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020, the internet was on fire. #nowarwithiran was trending on Twitter and activists began organizing protests across the U.S. The public outcry was visible on social media and in real life.
University of Oregon student Timothy Schatz, a co-director of the Radical Organizing and Activism Resource Center and writer for The Insurgent, a student run leftist newspaper, has felt the direct impact of social media and politics.
“If you are in the middle of a protest, you have access to instant communication. Where before, you would need radios or if you go back even further you don’t even have that. So[social media] allows for quicker responses,” Schatz said.
In other cases, social media can boost a political candidate from a locally known community organizer to the face of a political party. This is what happened to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she beat former NY-14 congressman Joseph Crowly in the 2018 democratic primary.
Despite the democratic party establishment’s efforts to hold her back, Ocasio-Cortez’s social media presence combined with her on-the-ground strategy propelled her to victory. Now she has the eyes and ears of thousands when she holds a live question and answer session on her @aoc Instagram account.
Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to interact with her followers makes people feel heard and understood — this is a rarity in politics.
In a representative democracy where elected officials are put in positions of power to make laws on behalf of the public, it is imperative that the general public is aware of those happenings. Media like radio, television and print used to be the most effective tools used to share information with the public. However, one would have to seek out a radio station or a newspaper in order to get the news.
Now people are able to stay updated on their friends’ lives, the newest celebrity gossip and politics. All of an individual’s interests are displayed on their feed as they scroll by. This provides an opportunity for those who previously did not pay attention to politics, to now become informed in a simple and convenient way.
A democracy requires an informed public and social media offers a vast array of news and commentary that is easily accessible to users. All media have drawbacks, but having a more informed public is always better than the alternative.