Contemporary generation has benefitted from marked technological developments, particularly access of varied information through social networking sites. There have been innumerable advantages of social networking sites, including sharing of personal messages and information; offering various individuals, groups, or even organizations to join in conversations; and allowing private or public organizations to deepen established relationships with clientele (public intimacy) . As such, government institutions and political parties have recognized the ability of social networking sites to promote ideologies and advocate political change . In David Kirkpatrick’s (2011) book entitled The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, the author noted that social media “is altering the character of political activism, and in some countries it is starting to affect the processes of democracy itself” (p. 15). The current discourse hereby asserts that social networking sites do not conclusively initiate and enforce democracy.
Social Networking Sites as Proponents of Democracy
Social Networking Sites as Ineffective Initiators of Democracy
In another article, Baumgartner & Morris (2010), the author explored the participation of youths in enaging in political discourse through social networking sites. The findings of the study conducted by these authors revealed that there were not conclusive links between political engagement of youth and their use of social networking sites. Despite the anti-thetical outcome, the contention that social networking sites initiate and enforce democracy could be asserted as not duly supported. The fact that youths are able to access sites that promote political and
democratic ideologies only confirm that these sites enable the access of relevant
political information. The findings revealed that political advocacies promoted in these social networking sites were ineffective to persuade voting youths into democratic change.
The findings from Baumgartner & Morris (2010) were corroborated by Fenton & Barassi (2011) who emphasized that social networking sites were not completely effective in initiating and enforcing democratic changes or political action due to the individualistic nature that the medium exemplifies. The authors noted that social networking sites could be perceived as problematic avenues for promoting political action predominantly due to self-centered logic; as compared to alternative media (newsletters, printed materials, television) which were identified as effective spaces enjoining collective action .
In another study written by Zhang, et al. (2010), the authors shared similar findings that social networking sites were found to “increase civic participation, but not political participation” (p. 75); thereby, indicating lack of viability in initiating and enforcing democracy. The rationale for the expected finding stemmed from the nature and purpose of social networking sites: to connect and maintain social relationships with family, friends, and acquaintances. As such, the social networking sites have been designed for purposes that seem to exclude the political or democratic agenda. As noted in various studies, other media were deemed more effective in promoting and enforcing democracy, such as: public speaking and political campaigns, television, broadsheets, and other campaign materials which could be closely evaluated, reviewed, and reflected on.
One hereby affirms that social networking sites do not conclusively initiate and enforce democracy. The manner by which social networking sites have been designed and established cater to the needs of users for maintaining relationships with family, friends, and acquaintances. Further, for some related literatures that supported the effectiveness of social networking sites for political changes; such as the experiences in Egypt and Tunisia, it could be assessed that for people whose urgent need is political change, since the current political environment adversely affects their way of life; then, social networking sites could be considered as effective in initiating and enforcing democracy.
Overall, the applicability and effectivity of social networking sites in promoting democratic ideologies that call people to urgent action depends on the current political situation that besieges this type of media users. As such, the platform needed to initiate and enforce democratic ideologies or promote political endeavors require more effective media for collective review and synergetic action. The individual nature manifested in accessing and viewing social networking sites make these sites ineffective for evaluating political advocacies that require urgent changes or call people into democratic action.
Baumgartner, J. & Morris, J., 2010. MyFace Tube Politics: Social Networking Websites and Political Engagement of Young Adults. Social Science Computer Review, 28(1), pp. 24-44.
Fenton, N. & Barassi, V., 2011. Alternative Media and Social Networking Sites: The Politics of Individuation and Political Participation. The Communication Review, 14(3), pp. 179-196.
Goodman, S., 2011. Social Media: The Use of Facebook and Twitter to Impact Political Unrest in the Middle East through the Power of Collaboration, San Luis Obispo: California Polytechnic State University.
Howard, P. & Hussain, M., 2011. The Role of Digital Media. Journal of Democracy, 22(3), pp. 35-48.
Kirkpatrick, D., 2011. The Facebook Effect The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World. s.l.:Simon & Schuster.
Merrill, T., Latham, K., Santales, R. & Navetta, D., 2011. Social Media: The Business Benefits May Be Enormous, But Can the Risks -- Reputational, Legal, Operational -- Be Mitigated?. [Online] Available at: http://www.acegroup.com/us-en/assets/ace-progress-report-social-media.pdf[Accessed 18 May 2014].
Stanford University, 2004. What is Democracy?. [Online] Available at: http://www.stanford.edu/~ldiamond/iraq/WhaIsDemocracy012004.htm[Accessed 18 May 2014].
Zhang, W., Johnson, T., Seltzer, T. & Bichard, 2010. The Revolution Will be Networked: The Influence of Social Networking Sites on Political Attitudes and Behavior. Social Science Computer Review, 28(1), pp. 75-92.