Updated: Feb 1
Socialization is a process by which an individual gets inducted into society with all its diversities. According to Neundorf & Smets, ‘Political socialization highlights the process by which citizens crystalize political identities, values and behaviour that remain relatively persistent throughout later life’ (Neundorf & Smets, 2017). There are many agents through which an individual’s identity is nurtured, such as family, peer group, education, media, and religion. One of the most impactful influences is created by the media. Especially in the current times of Generation Z, social media has made its place as one of the most influential mediums of socialization. The world where everyone is one click away from each other has made individuals more aware and communicative. In terms of political ideas, an individual makes use of social media to get an understanding of the current events happening around them and express their views, dissent and opinions to society. Media as an agent helps citizens become politically alert and socially active, mainly by allowing them to hold the government accountable. Social media as a agent has created a 'Global Village', which has led to increased participation and interlinkages between people and both domestic and global politics. In many parts of the world, social media has made democracy more transparent, as people actively take part in the working of the government and in return, the government also gets connected to its citizens. People’s attitudes and orientations towards the political system have changed due to social media.
But with the growing influence of social media and the presence of complex algorithms, there have been some negative impacts on society. As dependence on social media is vast, people are constantly supplied with propaganda, vague and subjective news made to look as facts or “fake news,” rumours, and communal hatred spread especially through IT cells of the current ruling party. The farmer’s protest was linked to Khalistan agenda by the BJP IT cell and trends like #khalistaniterrorists and #indiaagainstpropaganda emerged. Many fake forwards, fabricated information or hate speech on social media have contributed to mob lynching [Palghar mob lynching], social bullying, defaming an individual over his/her posts, riots [riot at the U.S. Capitol], etc. which are all contributing to the growing fissures in society. A surge in internet accessibility, which has penetrated to the roots, has allowed political parties to use the internet to shape political narratives even in the remotest of areas, and they are becoming quite successful with that. Even today, the manipulation of citizens by the political parties during elections through social media has made elections less transparent, unfair and has also contributed to the changing voting behaviour. We can see what the global impact of social media on domestic election inference in the US was, when Russian hackers in the 2016 influenced American voters through fabricated articles and misinformation. Similar is the case of Cambridge Analytica, which mined the data from Facebook to influence the voters in US and Indian elections.
The circulation of fake news has always distracted the masses from real and important issues, and in recent times of pandemic, illogical news around vaccines or any kind of false narrative built around COVID-19 has distracted the masses from the actual awareness about the disease and its vaccines. According to a 2018 MIT study, “the spread of false news is faster, farther and deeper than the truth” (Vosoughi et al., 2018). Additionally, to quote Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic”. Many media houses are being partisan. They have taken stands - some are pro-establishment and some are anti-establishment, and they keep changing the sides according to the political wave and ideologies as they desire. The role of reporting is getting diluted and more sensationalism is staged through loud anchors and multi-window news debates. Few of them which offer constructive criticism about issues or government actions, are neglected or are not given enough news coverage. We can see one of the pillars of democracy has become unstable and is losing its credibility day by day - media should act as a watchdog, not as a pet dog! In the current times, social media is one of the main reasons for communal disharmony and individuals getting socialized in this way has made them less tolerant. The platforms which were meant for freedom of expression are being used to suppress the freedom of expression.
I would conclude on an optimistic note, arguing that the interaction of masses with social media is beneficial, because social media platforms are the stage where we still have the power to criticize, disseminate our views, connect to the world for global peace and happiness, and much more. Today it is difficult to imagine a world without it. Yes, we have to foster these qualities of social media, to enrich ourselves and counter its negative effects. Hence, social media comes with its merits and demerits, and it is the responsibility of citizens, social media companies, and governments to make responsible use of it. The government and corporates should regulate the activities on these platforms and counter misinformation and unlawful activities through policy interventions. The collective efforts by the users, government and social media companies will help to connect the society meaningfully rather than to divide it drastically.
Cover Image: Pexels
About the author: Pradyumna Rathod is a Student of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, and Business at the Jindal School of International Affairs.