Can Social Media Seize Control of Our Elections?

Americans don’t trust the media. In fact, studies show that we like really, really, really don’t trust the media.

A new survey from the Media Insight Project, for examples, shows that just 6 percent of Americans “say they have great confidence in the press.”

Six percent! Just for some perspective, that’s about the same number of Americans who say they have trust in Congress, which is about 4 percent.

It’s up for debate whether that reflects worse on Congress or the media, but one thing is clear: the American public’s almost total distrust of the press isn’t going away anytime soon.

Public approval of the media has been declining for decades, and, according to some polls, has now reached record lows.

This shouldn’t be that surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention.

Thanks to the death of the Fairness Doctrine, the people who are supposed to report the news no longer have any obligation whatsoever to, you know, report the news. As a result, corporate media, especially corporate television media, has become almost completely from indistinguishable infotainment.

In many cases, it actually is infotainment.

Combine that with the fact that the press has gotten it very, very wrong on the biggest issues of our time -- the Iraq War, for example -- and it’s amazing that anyone trusts them to get any story straight.

So, if Americans don’t trust the traditional media, where are they getting their news?

Well, many of them, especially younger Americans, are getting it from the internet and social media.

This is having a big, game-changing effect on our democracy.

Because of social media, politicians and activists now don’t have to worry as much about getting their message across through corporate-controlled media.

They can now actually work around traditional corporate media altogether by using sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to reach out to supporters and rally the public to their cause.

This dynamic has played a huge role in the rise of Bernie Sanders. There was a “Bernie blackout” in traditional corporate media for the first six months of Bernie's campaign, and, at least initially, Sanders supporters could only find news about their candidate on Facebook and Twitter.

This has changed recently, but there is still an obvious anti-Bernie bias out there in the corporate press, even at supposedly “liberal” networks like MSNBC. As a result, social media has continued to play a big role in the campaign, acting as a corrective of sorts to mainstream media.

Because of its ability to “disrupt” establishment memes and establishment narratives, it’s tempting to see social media as the antidote to America’s media trust deficit.

But we should be careful.

Social media isn’t the white knight of open source information that it appears to be. It’s often just as biased as traditional media, and to make matters worse, doesn’t have the same firebreaks that make traditional media at least somewhat accountable to the public.

Take, for example, Facebook. That company is now having an internal debate about whether it has an ethical obligation to stop Donald Trump from getting elected president.

This is obviously legal and protected by the First Amendment, but it raises serious questions about how much we can rely on social media as an unbiased or at least transparent news source.

If the New York Times, for example, wanted to stop Donald Trump from getting elected president, it would do what newspapers are supposed to do when they decide to take a side in a political campaign: it would endorse Trump’s opponent and publish editorials explaining why.

Facebook doesn’t have to do any such thing.

In fact, if it wanted to, the corporation could just start blocking any and all articles that its users post about Donald Trump.

Again, this would all be perfectly legal.

But because Facebook doesn’t publish its internals, we would never know for sure if the sudden disappearance of Trump articles on its network was the result of a censorship campaign or just a sign that fewer people were interested in reading about Donald Trump.

That’s really the real danger here.

People turn to social media to get news they think isn’t covered on traditional media, which is why they’re more likely to believe what they see on Facebook and Twitter is true or probably true.

But, again, this isn’t really the case. And that’s not just because there’s more information out there and thus a greater possibility that that information could be wrong.

No, it’s because the corporations that control social media are corporations just like the corporations that control traditional media, and they’re even less accountable to the public.

Social media is changing the way that people get their news, but it’s not a silver bullet.

We must stay vigilant.


The Glenn Beck Review's picture
The Glenn Beck ... 7 years 7 weeks ago

Facebook has essentially become Clintonbook.

wslifko 7 years 7 weeks ago

Haven't bought a newspaper or magazine in decades. Haven't watched big network news in more than 10 years. I do check out their websites on occasion when they're linked in an interesting blog article. Otherwise, I don't give them the clicks and certainly will avoid ever giving them subscription service money. I don't begrudge them the right to free speech but do hold them accountable for their efforts to undermine democracy. They've become no better than terrorist (of the Caucasian variety) propaganda in some cases.

c-gull's picture
c-gull 7 years 7 weeks ago

"Our worst enemies here are not the ignorant and the simple, however cruel; our worst enemies are the intelligent and corrupt" Graham Greene

Corporate news reporters will not have a job long if they do not report what the CEO wants them to report. They must begin to think like the CEO to survive and if the CEO is corrupt then the staff takes on that corruption. People that accept news from a corrupt source take on that corruption also. The corrupt source will attempt to disguise itself in a bread and circus fashion so the people of a "democracy" must choose their news carefully.

Hierarchical, bureaucratic, corporations breed corruption; they have done so since the Roman empire and most of us know what happened to the Roman empire.

"As a free press develops, the paramount point is whether the journalist, like the scientist or scholar, puts truth in the first place or the second". Walter Lippmann

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 7 years 7 weeks ago

Can't make this stuff up! I had lunch with my 80 year old mother today, and she went off about how great the Koch brothers are. She rambled on about how they're an american rags to riches story. I know for fact Fox News is her only source of information.....sadly she's one of the vulnerable six percent!

I told her all about Fred Koch!

I really really hate the corpse media!

MikkieB's picture
MikkieB 7 years 7 weeks ago

Media's morally worse than prostitute. Don't even remember last time bought anything... not to be trusted.

Playing the same game on opposing to people's side as those FOR THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE - don't have a clue what actually people need and don't much care - just playing their OWN GAME, media is manipulated by them, completely disconected from reality, selectively covering events in totally biased and ugly manner.

MikkieB's picture
MikkieB 7 years 7 weeks ago

Will not vote.

Mark J. Saulys's picture
Mark J. Saulys 7 years 7 weeks ago

Facebook and Twitter are a means of sharing news and information and not actual sources of them.. The problem I see with Facebook and Twitter and such is that you are only sharing with friends and thus only with people who already agree with you and so they are bad for movement building and are a source of the extreme polarization and siloization of society and isolation of political tendencies into cult like entities.
With mass media, where everybody is watching the same three networks or their affiliates, one can't avoid being called on their bullshit and can't escape into their own little worlds. I don't think you could have a scandal like Watergate hit the fan today like it did in 1972 as a result. The lefties are listening to their own media that has its own take on facts - and even its own "facts" - and the righties are doing the same with their media.

cccccttttt 7 years 7 weeks ago

The net lets those on the left pick left oriented news sources, and those on the right to pick right oriented news sources.

This hardens opinions on each side and leaves almost no room for compromise.

No compromise means that senate business is paralyszed.

However, European democracy can govern even with such hard lines drawn between their many parties.

The winners get to try their way unimpededed by the minoriety , and the voters can throw the winners out if it fails.

Our government is a beast with two heads, and when not in gridlock, their policies are a wierd mixture that neither head supports.


RFord's picture
RFord 7 years 7 weeks ago

I remember when we were told about The Soviet Union using it's media outlets to "brainwash" it's citizens. We were asked to give to Radio Free Europe in TV ads so that the people behind the "Iron Curtain" could hear the truth about the "propaganda" their government was putting out. In the United States, we were dead set against brainwashing and propaganda. Now I see many Facebook posts everyday that are propaganda meant to brainwash. These posts I speak of are highly circulated untrue stories and lies. When I comment that the post is untrue and recommend a fact check and the reposter does it, they will come back with an "Oh yea, I see this is wrong", then they will post another piece of propaganda the next day. More often than not the reposter will choose to keep believing the false story they reposted. Usually these false posts seem to be designed to stir up hate, resentment, or a false sense of right and wrong. It seems many Americans are not against brainwashing and propaganda anymore. Today, many Americans are no better off news-wise than the people behind the iron curtain were 50 years ago. My advice is to seek the truth, that is if you want the truth.

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 7 years 7 weeks ago

There is no way around the fact that, especially since the B. Clinton administration, liberal media overall have obsessively marketed to middle class consumers and campaign donors, to the degree of simply excluding vitally important information. This has served to only more deeply divide the Dem voting base by class while ensuring that this time, there can be no populist push-back against the hard right wing.

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 7 years 7 weeks ago

There are very few English-language sites that have a leftist perspective. Today's liberals are actually to the right (esp. on core socioeconomic policies) of former Republican presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, even Reagan. US liberals today are solid believers in our system. Since the 1990s, they've implicitely preached that our deregulated capitalism is so successful that everyone is able to work, there are jobs for all, therefore no need for poverty relief.

Old_Curmudgeon 7 years 7 weeks ago

Media Fails

{… 1.60 limericks …}

Politics is ever the same,

and the media shares much of the blame.

The media fails

to rebut false tales

and report dirty tricks in the game

analytically enough

to stymie the stuff

which pols so falsely proclaim.


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