Speaking of Democracy discusses impact of social media

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Students had the opportunity to debate amongst themselves on whether social media has helped or harmed the foundations of democracy.


The American Democracy Project at CSUSM hosted their annual Speaking of Democracy panel, a seminar designed to inform students on the basics of democracy and how they can be applied to modern U.S. society.


Dr. Elizabeth Matthews, director of the Civic Learning Initiative in the Division of Community Engagement, hosted the event in the USU on Tuesday, Feb. 26.


Matthews, along with professors Cecilia Uy-Tioco and Brian Dolber of the CSUSM Department of Communication, discussed how social media can be applied to U.S. democracy.


“2/3 of Americans think it’s okay to talk about democracy on social media,” said Matthews.


Dolber said how the discussion of democracy on social media is an expression of free speech under the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. He also said that social media is part of “the right to assemble and the right to petition grievances.”


The seminar presentation began with a discussion on some of the benefits of social media.


With the advent of social media, Dolber said that “there are more voices [heard].” He said that social media can promote democracy by allowing people the ability to speak and be heard.


Uy-Tioco said how prior to the rise of social media, Americans were seen only as consumers of information on the Internet. In the era of social media, Uy-Tioco said that Americans now have “the ability to be creators and consumers.” Information and thoughts can be consumed and created on the Internet via social media.


However, Uy-Tioco said that social media surveys us and collects data for online corporations to use. Social media can also be used as “a tool for false news and propaganda,” she said.


According to Dolber, certain campaign ads on social media sites “[are] not inviting” and can appear to promote negativity. Such campaign ads can “make voters turned off to both candidates and drive down voter turnout,” said Dolber.


Uy-Tioco said that it’s important to “educate ourselves [on] how social media works [and that it helps to know] where sources are.”


During the event, students shared their thoughts on what impact social media has had on democracy and the democratic process.


When social media is applied to democracy, Dolber said “it’s not about expressing ourselves.” He said that it’s about requesting a change within the government, a fundamental practice within the democratic process.


“We have to participate in these changes,” said Uy-Tioco.


For more information, visit the American Democracy Project website at www.csusm.edu/civiclearning/adp.

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