Twitter and other social media outlets have aided numerous unquestionably good social transformations. The mostly successful revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, along with the rest of the Arab spring uprisings, stand out as the greatest testament to Twitter’s positive power.
However, since its rise to prominence, Twitter has unfortunately not graced American democracy with its acclaimed blessings. Instead, American politics have become more polarized, more partisan, and less productive. Twitter, among other things, is partially responsible for our inept republic.
The political conversation on Twitter closely resembles a very large group of friends trying to have a debate or make a very important decision. Everyone is sort of flailing their arms and yelling at the top of their lungs so that they can be heard, but nobody actually has anything constructive to say; there is no real conversation.
Twitter’s tumultuous environment has the potential to exaggerate issues that are unimportant or irrelevant. Everyone tweets a guttural reaction or maybe a creative joke, but the net effect is a lot of noise and not a lot of conversation.
This noise is, of course, picked up by the news media. Hoping to attract viewership and make money, the 24-hour news channels cover Twitter’s trending issues, no matter how insignificant. Think about the way Fox News diligently investigated President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, or MSNBC’s broadcast on Mitt Romney’s dog, Seamus — these are meaningless issues that have nothing to do with improving the economy or combating the country’s debt. Yet the news media decides to report on these absurd subjects because they know they can make money by doing so.
Trying to win elections and drive the political conversation, politicians use this media scheme to their advantage, to defame and discredit their opponents. Politicians simply need to incite some controversy about their opponent, and because of Twitter, people will get carried away and start tweeting about the subject that will of course attract the news media.
It’s as if Twitter is an incredible microphone held to the mouths of politicians; we cannot blame them for taking advantage of it. Unfortunately, this means that remedies for the real troubles ailing this country are never discussed, even in the professional-political realm. The halls of Congress echo with salacious accusations that mute honest and important policy discussions.
It does not have to be this way. Twitter has proven that it is unbelievably good at democratizing the political conversation — its users just need to be warier of what, exactly, they type. Instead of tweeting 30 times a day about how Romney is a bloodsucking businessman that outsources jobs, or how Obama is a clueless foreigner that doesn’t understand what it means to be American, people need to talk about the effectiveness of the stimulus, the importance of ending the Bush-era tax cuts, or the need for federal farm assistance. It requires a bit more thought, but it is the only way to recapture the effectiveness of our democracy from Twitter’s destructive cacophony.
Reach contributing writer Sohrab Andaz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Sandaz9193
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