Is The Fault With Social Media?

Nov 23, 2016

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, there has been a lot of finger pointing. One of the targets, for both the left and the right, has been the media, specifically social media.

A recent Pew study reports that over 62% of Americans now receive their news not from legacy journalism sources -- like local papers, national magazines, and broadcast news -- but from Facebook and Twitter.

In response to the rampant and seemingly boundless circulation of gossip in the echo chamber that is social media, many analysts have now advocated going back to the way things used to be. Although I appreciate the historical perspective this provides, going backwards is not an option.

First, what these critics long to return to never really existed in the first place. Their nostalgia conveniently forgets the long and contentious history of news media which contains ample instances of bias, gossip, and "yellow journalism."

Second, what we like about social media -- what makes it so interesting and compelling -- is that it is, for better or worse, radically democratic. For this reason, cracking down on Facebook or Twitter to save democracy risks contradicting its own efforts and objectives.

If we truly want to fix things, the real target is not the producer or distributor of news (or even pseudo-news) but the consumer. Consequently, what can make a difference is media literacy.

So if you want to fault someone or something for the results of this election, it is education and not the media that has failed us.

I'm David Gunkel, and that is my perspective.