The Rise of Social Media and How it Affects Civil Society



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The rise of social media has drastically changed political discourse and public engagement, with politicians going where the audience is, while people try to find a balance between filtering and plurality of opinions.

Emran Mian, Director of Social Market Foundation, Nic Newman, Lead Author of Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2016, and Nick Pickles, Head of UK Public Policy for Twitter talked with Ed Williams UK CEO of Edelman, about all the changes in social media and how they affect civil society.

Below are some takeaways from the session. To watch the entire talk, plus access more than 100 hours of other SMW events and presentations, sign up for SMW Insider.

Social media exposes diversity. “Social media exposes the pluralism in our society” according to Emran Milan, while he believes that social media is no bigger echo chamber than the rest of our lives, as it exposes to the “actual diversity and plurality of opinions.”

Changing the consumption pattern. Nic Newman mentioned has social media has enormously changed the way we consume content, with 1 out of 10 people considering social platforms as their main source of news. However, he doesn’t believe that our world becomes narrower, as people still “have mixed diets” and “we may be getting more echo chambers through social media, but we’re also getting serendipity and important news.”

Finding your voice. Nick Pickles highlight’s Twitter’s function as an open platform, where everyone has a voice and |people can now tell their story.”

Raw feedback through social media. Politicians understand that there’s no filter in social media to stop feedback and as Nick Pickles mentions, “smart politicians will listen to people using the platform.” It’s about communication and “people see through the noise a lot quicker.”

Finding authenticity and attention. Emran Milan believes that “Twitter does favor the authentic”, but authenticity is “often associated with the two extremes of the political spectrum” and this brings the question whether extreme politics get the message across easier. Nick Pickles adds that “people make more polarizing and emotional statements” to get attention, while there is a trend for more compressed content, “which can go really well and really badly.”

Focus on transparency. Emran Milan believes that “we are already in a pretty good position to know who everyone is” and the real challenge is to help people trust algorithms and the way the news are served. A long discussion on the difference between curators and algorithms leads to mixed responses among people and Nic Newman adds that “it’s not about editors against algorithms”, but rather about finding an editorial and social transparency.

Make people more countable. Nic Newman suggests we make people more countable, “pushing further the notion of democracy,” using big events to “put pressures on politicians to react.”

Make politicians more accessible. Social media has helped politicians become more accessible to the public, and Nick Pickles believes that it’s time to “make politicians more accessible” as “politicians who engage do well.”

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