Did Anna Hazare knock at your door to tell you that he is on hunger strike? Or did Arvind Kejrival ring you up to tell you that the same strike is against corruption? Did Narendra Modi lift your mattress to say to you that the 500 rupee note under it is invalid? I am sure not.
It was the social media that escalated these national issues. You may argue that this was done through television as well, but the convenience and platform that social media provided was incomparable. It circulated the information among masses and with just a click!
Have you ever wondered why do the internet services get curbed during riots by the government?
This shows that social media has reached that place where even the state feels the importance of its interference for the benefit.
The Bright Side
A large population is associated with these social networking sites. Around 60% of the US adults use social networking sites. India has the world’s largest number of Facebook users. Even the political leaders of the nation are associated with these platforms. This makes a connecting link between the ordinary people and those in power. Abraham Lincoln said that democracy is the government of the people. And therefore it can be argued that with social media, being the connecting link between those in power and the ordinary people, helps in developing and framing people’s political opinion. A bulk of information is available on various social networking sites related to political affairs of the country. Then the actual accounts of politicians as well and the posts or the statements uploaded there, all of these give way to one’s political understanding through the study of information or opinions on this social networking. And people’s perception is essential about democracy (being the government of people).
Turn-over of the Twitter Revolution
Tunisia gained democracy through a vast revolution which was rooted in social networking such as Twitter and Facebook. There, it united the angry people to coordinate their actions, and therefore the question arises if it was a ‘Twitter Revolution; that happened in Tunisia’. The online world played a major role in their democracy:
“There’s no question that Twitter definitely helped to spread the information about what was happening in Tunisia, as demonstrated by the tweets and videos and other media collected by Andy Carvin at National Public Radio while the events unfolded. And at least one Tunisian revolutionary, who runs a website called Free Tunisia, told a Huffington Post blogger that social media such as Twitter — along with cell phones, text messaging and various websites — was crucial to the flow of information and helped protesters gather and plan their demonstrations.” (In a post by Mathew Ingram on GigaOM).
Apart from this, social networking sites can not only be regarded as essential tools of democracy but also the critique of the same. They become a medium for enabling various movements to flourish. People come together and share their political grievances through various social networking. Also, the movements are spread widely and in a short spam using social media.
Remember Anna Hazare’s Anti-corruption hunger strike in the year 2011? About this, there were series of demonstrations and protests in India. Time magazine categorised this movement under the Top 10 news stories of the year. Social networking was an essential tool for the rapid expansion of the movement. How social media made people sitting far off aware of this. No doubt this was done through television as well, but the convenience and platform that social media provides are incomparable. It spread the information among masses very quickly. Therefore, the social networking sites are essential for the encouragement of various democratic movements.
The Dark Side
No doubt, in a way social networking sites are making democracy work more effectively and efficiently. But on the other hand, the same is being misused to a greater extent.
One should not forget that, consciously or unconsciously, if opinions are formed or affected based on what information is available on social networking sites, and then this can be misleading as well. For instance, availability of wrong information or intentionally spread of incorrect information by some entity may lead to the formulation of false and vague opinions. This may lead to further problems.
The latest revelations from Facebook and Twitter acknowledge that Russian-backed entities used their network to spread disinformation and sow political discord. This has heightened concerns about the impact of social networks on democracy. Therefore, such wrong spread of political information and ideas disrupts and creates discord in democracy.
Recently a fake website was created in the name of Uttar Pradesh government, and a poll was run on the site for Ram Mandir and Babri Masjid. This made people believe that the survey was driven by the government to reach a consensus on the issue. However, it was soon discovered that the website and so the poll was fake. This is an example of how the same social networking sites which can help in building democracy strong can also adversely affect it.
Overall, social media’s power cannot be denied as it can bring massive change to democracy. The outcomes can be both, favourable or catastrophic.
It should be taken as a responsibility to make social media a tool which can empower democracy.