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We're Misung Social Media - And It's Ruining Democracy

14/11/2016 15:03

Following both Brexit and the US Election something has struck me: My social media intake is extremely partisan.

I know I am not alone in this. The notion that we seek out journalistic sources which confirm our own views and coddle our biases is not novel, but conforming to it squanders the potential utility of social media as a democratic tool.

Brexit and the US election have demonstrated the stark divisions within the UK and the US. The results almost perfectly compartmentalised each nation into the left and right wing; the urban and the rural; the liberal and the conservative. Most worryingly, they are scornful divisions without dialogue or empathy, and sometimes entirely lacking in comprehension.

It is possible that modern society itself has become more fractured. One could posit any number of reasons why this might be, but it is puzzling that in an age where social media offers the opportunity to bridge gaps and better understand each other, we are all becoming more and more entrenched.

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There has been a lot of political outrage on Facebook, Twitter etc. concerning these seismic political events, and there is doubtless great value in people voicing their concerns so freely, but it is extremely rare to see anything conciliatory. It is validation, not conversation, which is invariably sought.

That outrage often appears to be rooted in an inability to understand where the other side is coming from. If we reach a point at which we pose solely rhetorical questions and purport to engage only for affirmation, discarding entirely other viewpoints, we reach a point of no return, and we damage irreparably our ability to work together in a functioning democratic system.

"How can she vote for a mysognist?" "How can he vote for a criminal?" In the immortal words of Kanye West, that's a pretty bad way to start a conversation.

There is no obvious solution. Listening, reflecting and identifying would help, as would welcoming debate rather than shutting it down with incredulity or insult.

But we also have the opportunity to use social media to broaden our horizons. If not to adopt other viewpoints, then at least to open our minds to them so that we can better understand each other.

Below are a spread of top Twitter handles you might not already follow from a variety of political leanings. Please follow some or all of them, and add any further suggestions you have in comments below. You will disagree with a lot of what they say, but that's precisely the point.

The Conservative Voice (US)

@MichelleMalkin - Author, blogger, policital commentator

@benshapiro - Political commentator, author, radio talk show host, and attorney

The Libertarian Voice (US)

@GovGaryJohnson - That Aleppo moment was unfortunate, but he gave a great account of his policies on the Freakonomics podcast

@MaryAnastasiaOG - Mary O'Grady, Wall Street Journal Columnist and relentless President Obama critic

The Liberal Voice (US)

@TrevorNoah - Host of The Daily Show and hilarious political commentator

@DrJillStein - US Green Party Candidate for President, doctor, environmentalist

The Conservative Voice (UK)

@MrHarryCole - The Sun's Westminster Correspondent. An essential account from the heart of Westminster

@DouglasCarswell - UKIP's only MP and staunch brexiteer

The Liberal Voice (UK)

@ChukaUmunna - Labour MP for Streatham and former Shadow Business Secretary. Ran for Labour leadership before dropping out for personal reasons

@pollytoynbee - Guardian Columnist and former BBC social affairs editor

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