This is about Truth, and how it is shaped by power. If you want a clean black-n-white version of it, I suggest you look somewhere else. In America, “truth” is defined by a concentration of wealth and power. Real truth is real power, and its lifeblood is money. Whoever has the most money gets to write on the chalkboard of the political classroom, and define what truth means. Everyone is familiar with the old wisdom of following the money. It still is a good rule for understanding what or who is behind what happens. While this explains some of the story, it doesn’t explain how it is done. For that we have to go deeper. It requires us to ask ourselves a few questions that will challenge our beliefs.
This is meant as an introduction to a series on social media and its impact on politics, science, art, and most of all education. It is an apolitical examination of how we communicate online. It is not intended to take any political position on the current American Spectrum.
I am going to start with some basic ideas about freedom of speech, and the digital platforms we use to express them. My purpose is to reveal how they don’t actually serve the platform user, but rather use the user, and influence the political narratives in America. In point of fact, they exist only to increase the digital platform’s power. The idea that we cannot express our personal beliefs without being penalized is the opposite of free speech. As George Orwell wrote: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” (Cohen, 1998).
When Elon Musk announced that he had purchased 9.2 percent of Twitter’s stock earlier this year, he sent a shock wave through the American political landscape (Turner & Trundell, 2022). The legacy media, which is becoming increasingly irrelevant, understands how platforms like Tik Tok, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, along with You Tube, shape the public perception of American politics. Many Americans get their news from social media. Because of this, it should not be surprising that whoever controls the stream of this information unduly influences the public’s imagination, and the outcome of elections.
For example: in a study named “The Effect of Social Media on Elections: Evidence from the United States”, it was found that “…a 10% increase in a country’s number of Twitter users lowered the vote share of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by 0.2 percentage points in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.” In addition to this, the authors documented “…tweets about Trump in 2016 and 2020 70% more likely to have Democratic rather than Republican slant” (Fujiwara & Müller & Schwarz, 2022).
When we break down use of social media across platforms, the following is found: “…the most popular services are YouTube, (used by 81% of adults in the U. S.), followed by Facebook, (69%), Instagram (40%), Pinterest (31%), Linkedin (28%), Snapchat (25%), Twitter (23%), Whatsapp (20%), TikTok (21%), Reddit (18%), and Nextdoor (13%) ” (Pew, 2021).
On average, a daily user will spend one hour on these applications, and any prevailing bias is not only influencing their political ideas, but is also limiting their expression of them when they are in conflict with the prevailing narratives.
Social media is possibly the greatest tool of social experimentation and manipulation that has ever been created. As of 2019, there has been a steady increase of social media sites like You Tube, with an estimated 79% of Americans using social media daily (Pew, 2021).
Certainly Musk sees the potential and power of corporate social media. Important political families like the Clintons and Obamas worry how opening up a platform to less regulated and singularly driven narratives can take away the power from a corporation and give it back to the people. In an article by Harriet Alexander, for Daily Mail, it has been suggested that the money behind the activists activity against Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter is “…an assortment of ‘dark money groups’ like George Soros’ Open Society Foundation; NGOs founded by former Clinton and Obama administration staffers; wealthy Democrat donors and their family foundations, and the government of European nations” (Alexander, 2022). Musk has made clear his aims. One of Musk’s major goals is to eliminate as many bots and hoax accounts on Twitter as possible (Fung, 2022). If he succeeds in this, it could have an effect on future elections.
The public is familiar with the term “fake news.” During President Trumps administration there was a lot of talk about it on both sides of the political fence. In a Stanford Study of fake news during the presidential election, it was found “… stories favoring Donald Trump were shared a Total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro-Hillary Clinton shares leading up to the election” (Gentzkow & Allcott, 2017). Ironically, the conclusions of this study seem to imply that its impact is not as great as believed, namely that the study was inconclusive. Despite this, we can all recall how it such false claims in the press could create an environment of disinformation, and overall confusion.
Corporations, who pay for politicians know that democracy is an idea that requires the best of laboratory conditions. One of them is a light shined on facts and information. The moment the public is denied access to all the information is the opportunity that democracy withers like a plant without rain or sunlight.
I intend to turn the focus on why I believe the solution is not in the platform, but in us becoming better critical thinkers, and to accept that it is the duty of every citizen to “think” first. Ask questions, doubt what you hear, and finally develop what I call the instinct to think rather than feel.
The one thing that hurts citizens and voters more than anything else is being unaware of even the basic facts. A fully informed voter is a smarter citizen. Many of the sources of media in America today are incredibly biased to the left or the right, and serve big business only. We are all logged on and lost in as sea of information, viral videos, outrage, and distractions that more than render us docile, they render us ignorant of what the secret hands of government and corporations are doing. It is a slight of hand, basically. If we titter at the gaffs of President Biden, or fume with rage at the indifference of the gun lobby in response school shootings, we are occupied by a kind of faux life drama on a wide spectrum of political response.
The economy of today has shifted to be an economy of outrage, and it has captivated us all. There no longer exists a common ability for most people to process these events with any perspective. We have become so incredibly numbed by social media that we have lost the ability to be critical and judgmental in a constructive way. We have a set number of responses to world events.
I hope to crack open and pull apart these issues, so that others may look at them with fresh eyes. It is a call to form a community of thinkers, and problem solvers, and I call on you to respond. Your contribution may have the way out of this for us all. This is not a manifesto. It is an invitation to think.
I look forward to your comments, suggestions, and criticisms. Don’t be shy. Speak up and join the conversation now.
Cohen, M. J. (1998) The Penguin Thesaurus of Quotations, Penguin Books.
Alexander, Harriet. (2022) REVEALED: George Soros, Clinton and Obama staffers and European Governments are Behind Anti-Musk Campaign to Force Big Corporations to Boycott Twitter – After Elon Demanded to Know ‘Who Funds These Organizations?’ https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article- 10780583/George-Soros-Clinton- Obama-staffers-European-governments-anti-Musk-campaign.html
Fujiwara, Thomas., Müller, Craig., Schwarz, Carlo., (2022) The Effect of Social Media on Elections: Evidence from the United States. Stanford University.
Fung, Brian. (2022) Elon Musk Threatens to Walk Away from Twitter Deal
Gentzkow, Matthew. Allcott, Hunt (2017) Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election https://news.stanford.edu/2017/01/18/stanford-study-examines-fake- news-2016-presidential-election/
Pew Research Center. (2021a), Social Media Fact Sheet, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/
Pew Research Center. (2021b), Social Media Use in 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/04/07/social-media-use-in-2021/
Turner, Giles., Trundell, Craig, (2022) “Musk buys 9.2% stake in Twitter, making him its top shareholder” Bloomberg, https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/4/4/elonmusk-buys-9-2-stake-in- twitter-sending-shares-higher.