Social Reshapes Elections
The US election was for many reasons historic, not the least of them the election to the presidency of a quasi-fascist. (I only say 'quasi' because he hasn't yet taken office.) Once again, social media's role in influencing, or not, the information and political panorama trundled through post-election rhetoric.
I think these three articles and one research study summarize best the issues and debate, and provide perspectives with which I agree.
Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies. at Oxford feels this has been a big year for what he calls "computational propaganda", essentially algorithms on social networks like Facebook and Twitter that drive fake news and selective exposure to opinions, facts and ideas.
We’ve always relied on many kinds of sources for our political news and information. Family, friends, news organizations, charismatic politicians certainly predate the internet. But whereas those are sources of information, social media now provides the structure for political conversation. And the problem is that these technologies permit too much fake news, encourage our herding instincts, and aren’t expected to provide public goods.
His recommendations are novel and include having knowledgeable third parties audit social media algorithms, adjust algorithms so they introduce higher quality information, and "moral leadership from within social media firms"
Questions have popped up frequently about the role that Facebook's algorithms play in spreading misinformation. The questions gained prominence when it was learned during the US election that a number of articles, including one in a fake newspaper called the Denver Guardian claiming that the Pope supported Donald Trump, spread widely on Facebook. Zuckerberg denies the claims, arguing that it is a "crazy idea" that his social platform could influence the outcome of the election and that in any case it would favour balance.
Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information, contends convincingly that Zuckerberg's claims are simply not true, and that the misinformation wasn't balanced between the candidates but, in fact, benefited Trump:
Of course, fake news alone doesn’t explain the outcome of this election. People vote the way they do for a variety of reasons, but their information diet is a crucial part of the picture.
After the election, Mr. Zuckerberg claimed that the fake news was a problem on “both sides” of the race. That’s wrong. There are, of course, viral fake anti-Trump memes, but reporters have found that the spread of false news is far more common on the right than it is on the left.
The Political Environment on Social Media (Pew Research Center)
As always, Pew research provides the data playground for analysis of social influence over what we think and how we decide. The three charts below capture the social-politics zeitgeist and speak for themselves.
Polling during the election failed to predict the Trump win . . . but social media analysis didn't.
Analysts monitoring the social media activity of both campaigns on the major social media channels saw the outcome of this election coming months ago, and kept talking about the massive silent voter base that was forming around the Republican nominee. Social media analysts continually sounded the alarm that all of the polls were not reflecting the actual situation on the ground in the pre-election landscape.
Social media is today's public square, so why should it be surprising that it's also the place we can learn what people suppose and feel?