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18/07/2019 Communication Science news and articles

Quality of public debate and social media

Does social media add or subtract from the quality of public debate today? Aakansha shares her take on the controversial topic.


Social media in the 21st century, is the ubiquitous influence that parents want their children to stay away from. If it were a reliable source of knowledge acquisition, then one might consider news, scholarly articles, journals and books to be not only to be less appealing but potentially worthless. However, you can never be 100% confident whether or not the information you are exposed to on social networking sites is of good quality; let alone improving your existing knowledge.

What social media is not

Social media is a platform to showcase thoughts, opinions, personal pictures and these, may or may not be unrelated to offering substantial information improving the quality of public debate. I believe that at some point in the cycle of creating, sharing and ‘viralising’ content, genuine information, such as the news, becomes even harder to distinguish from fake news. And thus social media, in my opinion, does not improve the quality of public debate.

Social media can divide us

In the article, “Mass Media Flow and Differential Growth in Knowledge, it is clearly explained how and why the integration of social media can only benefit those who are well educated and have a higher socioeconomic status. This helps us infer that when the same exposure of social media is provided to one who is less educated; it only works as a misguidance and a distraction. This subsequent effect further increases the knowledge gap amongst the public; fostering a growing belief in disastrous phenomenon, such as, “fake news” and conspiracy theories. That being said, misleading information on social media can lower the quality of public debate by questioning the validity of established facts causing discord. 

Social media can silence us

In addition to the problem created above, one must acknowledge that social media is filled with strong ‘influencers’ whose opinions carry some power, affecting their long list of followers. Some social media influencers do not hesitate to twist the facts and figures, to satisfy their own personal or professional goals. This results in the encouragement of the ‘Spiral of Silence , a concept wherein people feel the constant need to suppress their opinions because they think they are in minority. The aforementioned, only creates more blind followers who spread half knowledge with conviction, not people who improved their quality of public debate.

Social media is the first not the final step towards improving the quality of public debate

One might argue that social media provides free, speedy access to knowledge for those who cannot afford it. It can be said that it increases their learning via multiple delivery channels, in the end, helping them contribute to a quality debate. However, it cannot be ignored that anything substantial that we find on social media should be able to be traced back to a valid as well as reliable source which, in fact, should be the ultimate source if the quality of information is to be kept in mind. Any other information that one receives must be proofed for error, in order for it to improve the quality of public debate.

Considering the good with the bad

We know that social media is a vast open platform that enables the masses to share and receive information. Therefore, as much as it can increase the chance of receiving quality information, it has equal probability of preaching illogical and inconsistent information. Thus to sum up we can say that social media can be a wonderful source to invoke the motivation to attain knowledge but it is not the one contributing to the improvement of public debate.    

Cover: Pixabay: kreatikar Final Editor: Erica Boyce

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