• Internal Code :
  • Subject Code : POL1000
  • University : University of Southern Queensland (USQ)
  • Subject Name : Introduction to Politics and Government Essay

Is social media good or bad for democracy?

Introduction

This study maintains a key theme of the impact of social media on democracy. This study is an extensive study of democratic government in Australia and how it is impacted by social media.  A democratic government provides the right to the citizens of the country to adopt fair practices to choose the government. Many countries have adopted democratic practices to eliminate conflicts and to ensure the progress of a country.  Australia is a representative democratic country. In the political system of Australia, citizens vote for the representatives that further choose the main authoritative body. Social media has eased the process of raising voice on government and political issues. It has made it easier for the citizens to easily communicate their concerns and problems to the government. However, many times apart from just discussing the issues and problems, social media also brings risks of foreign meddling, fake news, heartrending elections and disturbing the political process of voting. 

This essay will provide a critical discussion of the impact of social media on democracy of Australia. Both negative and positive impacts of social media will be discussed in this essay. The initial section of the study will highlight the democratic conditions of Australia in the last decade. It will involve all the positive impact that social media has posed on democracy. The second section will emphasize the interference of social media and its negative impacts. The concluding section will underpin all the important discussions and findings of the study. 

Political practices of Australia reflect the practices being followed in Britain and North America. The Australian democracy relies upon its fundamental core features involving the Australian constitution which is a federal constitution that provides basic rules and regulations of operation of the nation. Australian federation, parliament, Judicature and the federal parliament together constitute the Australian democracy. With the growing influence of Social media in various sectors of the society, it has managed to penetrate the lifestyle of individuals. In Australia, the use of social media platforms has witnessed a vast and surprising rise in the last decade. Earlier it was used just for the sake of entertainment. It was used by people to share content related to entertainment. Now social media has embedded into the lives of people. It was used to grow and embrace tie relationships (Curran and Hesmondhalgh 2019). It was used as a source to stay in touch with loved ones. Now the role of social media has transitioned and has transformed into a platform that defines the political opinions of people as well. In Australia, many people consider Facebook, which is one of the most used social media platforms as a major source of information. Most of the individuals consider it as the major news content distributor (Entman and Usher 2018).

Social media platforms have defined the democratic state of the country. Many researchers often consider social media as a tool for democracy (Tucker et al. 2017).  In Australia, increasing use of gadgets and smartphones is making it easier to access the social media platforms and it is thus, changing and framing the political opinions of people. There are numerous political barriers such as the communication gap between the political bodies and common people in Australia. This gap is narrowing due to the use of social media. Social media, though being an informal platform helps in speeding the spread of news.  

In 2017, certain propensities surfaced in Australia regarding the national referendum to legalize same-sex marriage. During that year social media users used the platform to raise their opinions on the subject. They changed their Facebook profile pictures to circulating petitions. This subject has been a topic of debate for the last decade in Australia. Liberal National Party of the country decided to take a review of the opinions of the citizens of the country (McNair et al. 2017). An eight-week voting campaign was organized to take into consideration the opinions of 80 per cent of the eligible Australians. It resulted in many Australians providing their opinions through social media platforms. On 7th December, same-sex marriage was legislated in Australia. This incident can be considered as an example of how social media has impacted the democratic decisions of the country. Social media can amplify the voices of individuals so that it can reach the authorities. In the era of social media and its dominance, it can be observed that agenda-setting power has been reframed (Bruns et al. 2015). In Australia, earlier the news had to pass through many changes and alterations to reach the front page of the newspapers. In the process of opposing from the editor's desk to the newspaper, much of the information was reformed or reviewed. In the era of social media, all the barriers between communications of the issues have changed. As per statistics of January 2019, there were around15, 000,000 monthly active users of Facebook in Australia.  This figure has inflated as compared to that of the last year. This figure is just of one social media platform, there are many others too. Social media has led to many online mobilization waves. With the help of the social media ‘Me too" movement has changed from hash tags to a big change. In the year 2017 and 2018, many people in Australia along with people of other countries began coming up and sharing their stories. Women mostly involved in this movement and raised voice against sexual harassment.

Many questions were raised regarding how this movement could reinvigorate democracy and bring a long term change. In the wake of the movement, a report was released by the Australian government namely, “Everyone’s Business”. This report’s major objective was to investigate workplace harassment (O'Neil et al. 2018). It outlined the harassment frequency and the reporting process of harassment. It identified that around 71% of the Australians were harassed once in a while in their lifetime. Issuing of this report was a result of the impact of social media protests. Fuelling of social media with protests has led to many positive impacts on the democracy of the country. Social media poses many positive impacts on the democracy of the country. These positive impacts involve the fact that it acts as a space of deliberation and debate and brings forward the diverse opinions of people.

The democratic institutions need to gain the trust of people to function in an efficacious manner. But public onions have moulded in a different number of ways which can be a complex for the democratic system to understand. Last few years have highlighted the risks that are associated with negative impacts of social media on the democracy in Australia. Propagation of information cocoons that provide false reports and fake news on social media has become a threat in the functioning of democracy of the country. People become a part of information cocoons and it frames the minds of people in such a way that they fail to acknowledge other aspects of a subject (Bradshaw and Howard 2019). This situation is awful for democracy in any country. Such cases were prevalent in Australia and have impacted the Australian federal elections, 2019.  In the elections, it is often observed that the social media handles are used to promote a particular party and it dominates the promotional strategies of the other party. As a consequence of this, in Australia, it was observed that many people were affected by the augmented promotions done by the parties. Aftermath of presidential elections of the United States, 2016 saw an unparalleled digital media campaigning coverage (Persily 2017). In Australia, no longer are the debates held between the parties but their opinions are framed by the public views as well (Highfield and Bruns 2016). Many researchers have even called social media as terrific for democracy. This is so because it is an evolving platform where the inflow of the entrants is continuous. Group polarization on social media is a boon for democracy. Social media has personalized content for users. This is good from the perspective of users but from the perspective of democracy, it is treacherous. Anticipated encounters of topics and ideas are central for democracy. These anticipated encounters may involve all the ideas or topics that the individual may not have thought over. These encounters may involve social and political issues and their differed perspectives. Personalization of the content of social media may distort the democracy; therefore, it is important to provide varied content as well to deal with polarization, accumulation of like-minded people and thoughts, extremism and fragmentation. Social media is a heterogeneous society of different people. Though diversification of views is cardinal and critical for democracy of the country, still it needs to be acknowledged that people need to have shared experiences and mutual understanding to make social media glue and thus, impact the democracy and the society effectively. Filter bubbles in social media are of the hurdles and provide information based on the relevance of the user. Problem with the filter bubble in social media is that the users never receive the information that the users don't agree with. The outcome of this scenario is that the user is never able to verify the authenticity of the news. Many researchers have often warned the Australian election team to deal with bots as the fake news is more prone to spread. Bots are one of the most used tools in Australia to spread fake news and impact the opinions of individuals in the country.

They are sometimes automated accounts that are meant for targeting a large number of people. On Twitter, many bots take the fake name of the political parties of the country and post false news. This sometimes impacts the individuals of the country and maybe a recession in the process of choosing the government (Jha and Kodila-Tedika 2018). False news spreads faster than the actual truth. The bots facilitate this process. It was observed that after the momentum of the federal elections of Australia 2019, many bots became active to spread the news regarding a party. Armies of the bots program them in such a way that they rewet the most debated issues. They are made in such a way that they target the journalists and develop an entirely different point of view than the mainstream view. In terms of polarization, social media is worse as compared to the other forms of media involving televisions, newspapers and radio. It is tainting the democracy of Australia from within. Though social media has aided in many pro-democracy movements but has overall given far rights to parties and authorities as an advantage. 

Conclusion

Democracy is about giving everyone a voice to present their opinions. In the digital world, where social media has become a sphere of discourse, it is imperative to understand the fact that every pro is accompanied by a con. Social media provides a platform to discuss political and other issues, however, individuals need to be accountable for what opinions they hold. The individuals of the country must understand the distinction between falsehood and truth. With the power to use social media tool to raise voices, individuals must comprehend the accompanying responsibility of understanding manipulation of the democratic process. It is okay for people to disagree with the certain notion that is true but knowingly spreading lies is not esteemed. It can be inferred from the study that social media amplifies human intent, both in a positive and negative aspect. Since every rose comes with a thorn, similarly there are some positive as well as negative aspects concerned with social media is impacting democracy. Media is considered as one of the cardinal pillars of democracy, and social media is a part of it. To overcome these issues, it is significant to embed the same ingenuity in social media platforms to connect to the democratic and public square that was used to connect with the loved ones.   

References

Bradshaw, S. and Howard, P.N. 2019. Social Media and Democracy in Crisis. Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives, 212.

Bruns, A., Enli, G., Skogerbo, E., Larsson, A.O. and Christensen, C. eds. 2015. The Routledge companion to social media and politics. London: Routledge.

Curran, J. and Hesmondhalgh, D. 2019. Media and Society. Bloomsbury: Bloomsbury Academic.

Entman, R.M. and Usher, N. 2018. Framing in a fractured democracy: Impacts of digital technology on ideology, power and cascading network activation. Journal of Communication, 68,2. 298-308.

Highfield, T. and Bruns, A. 2016. Compulsory voting, Encouraged tweeting? Australian elections and social media. The Routledge companion to social media and politics, 338-350.

Jha, C.K. and Kodila-Tedika, O. 2018. Does social media promote democracy? Some empirical evidence. Some Empirical Evidence.

McNair, B., Flew, T., Harrington, S. and Swift, A. 2017. Politics, Media and Democracy in Australia: Public and Producer Perceptions of the Political Public Sphere. London: Routledge.

O'Neil, A., Sojo, V., Fileborn, B., Scovelle, A.J. and Milner, A. 2018. The# MeToo movement: an opportunity in public health?. The Lancet, 391,10140. 2587-2589.

Persily, N., 2017. The 2016 US Election: Can democracy survive the internet?. Journal of democracy, 28,2. 63-76.

Tucker, J.A., Theocharis, Y., Roberts, M.E. and Barberá, P. 2017. From liberation to turmoil: social media and democracy. Journal of democracy, 28,4. 46-59.

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