Although President Joe Biden emphasized unity and suggested that we need to stop our “uncivil War,” it is clear that the nation has become more fractured than ever, nearly one year into his term. On various platforms online that can be called anti-social media, this fact has not changed. Although there was previously open disdain for the country before the 2020 elections, it has been able to unify the nation through social media.
James R. Bailey from the George Washington University School of Business, stated that “the most disastrous development in social media was the acceleration of pernicious posts.”
Bailey said that “social media has been a platform for spreading irresponsible ideas for years. However, 2021 was a breakthrough year.” “The 2020 elections are responsible for the majority of this decline, not just because of accusations of voter fraud or the January 6th Insurrection. You are allowed to challenge the results of elections and demonstrate at the Capital. Social media enabled these beefs explode into violent crusades.
It is possible that Americans were not politically active enough or paid enough attention to the issues at one time. However, today it seems like this is all that defines us.
Bailey observed that “It is ironic that democracy was built around the belief that more people would participate, and that collective welfare and individual welfare would improve.” This fundamental assumption is no longer valid. It was one-hundred ninety years ago. Democracy in AmericaAlexis de Tocqueville made a warning about the dangers of political participation. Thanks to social media, that cautionary note is now a loud scream.
Younger users were not arguing on social media about politics, but it was clear that there were some ominous trends which could lead to more problems.
According to Dr. Dustin York (associate professor of communication, Maryville University), “The micro-level, the most disturbing social media trends in 2021 must be the unacceptable TikTok challenges such as “Slap a Teacher Day,” but at the macro level it has to be continued degradation of teen mental well-being.”
Continue to See Them All
There is no reason to believe that any of this will happen as the year turns to a new one. It will stay divided but business will as usual for the platforms.
“2022 is a continuation and possibly even more chaotic of 2021.” Bailey stated that American were once political four times a year during the presidential election cycle. Every day can be a battle day for the millions of social media users who gather information and share their views. The constant stream of virtual vitriol is just as common. It is likely that there will be some maneuvering within the social media “metaverse”, to be certain. Most of these maneuvers are business-related. Problem is, social media has no business model that is tied to it like manufacturing. You don’t need to be a member of a specific business model in order to gain access. It takes only a server, a web page, and an attitude.
What Regulations Are Coming?
The recent criticisms that Facebook and other platforms have received raises the question of why nothing is being done about these issues. There is no simple answer.
Bailey explained that there’s no legislative will to regulate social networking content. Section 230 of the Federal Communications Commission is not going to get updated, because both parties benefit from social media. It is reasonable to expect that social media will be both constructively and destructively useful well into the future.
There are many ways social media can be controlled. But Dr. Colin Campbell from the Knauss Business School at the University of San Diego offered some suggestions.
The following are helpful/needed regulatory changes that I consider: Make social media “closed” by default to prevent user posts from going viral, unless the user explicitly opts in; Increase verification of users on social media. China is already doing this with social accounts tied to national ID numbers. Users can be easily banned for posting inappropriate material.
Campbell also suggested it may be necessary to overturn the current laws – notably Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – that allow social media sites to not be responsible for what users post.
“If they were responsible – and could be sued in the same way a newspaper can be sued for printing fake information – I could imagine a quick change in how quickly social media sites are able to check user content,” he noted.
York said that until social media algorithms are regulated they will continue to divide the nation. “In 2022 we will continue to see social media toxic energies, reaching even more people.” You can expect more platforms that are politically-oriented, such as Donald Trump’s Truth Social.
Experts agree regulation is on the horizon, but it’s unlikely that regulation will come next year.
Do not expect quick change when Facebook and Congress spend tens of thousands lobbying every year. York reminded us that all of this took place in 2021. A future generation may look back on this moment and say that we failed to regulate social media faster, much like how my generation wondered why big tobacco wasn’t penalized for half a century.