Reality Check

Assessing the Impact of Social Media

Reality Check 8

This 8th edition of the Reality Check is dedicated to the topic of the Social Media Conference in July 2015: "Assessment of the influence of social media on political communication and civic engagement". The experts who contributed to the publication shed light on the topic from various perspectives, including the viewpoints of civil society, bloggers and traditional media.

Introduction

​​​​​​​For many years the media evolution from print to radio, to TV and now online media has continued to influence mass opinions and perceptions. However, the emergence of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has taken this very concept a step further, with some arguing that social media now shape the opinions, perception and actions of the majority whose opinions were previously shaped by information from traditional and mainstream media houses.

Today’s web and the new media underpin the ability to create instant communication sensations. From Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and a collection of blogs, a news statement can advance from zero to 20 million viewers overnight. The viral nature of this highly social, user-driven environment enables complete strangers to connect over common beliefs, desires or interests and together create winners and losers.

In what we refer to as the “information age” or “digital age” our technological advancements in the area of ICT have helped overcome limitations of time and space in communication, information sharing and networking. This not only affects how we connect with other people and how we do business, but also how we interact in the political sphere. In that context, social media can be considered as a potential tool for facilitating the social contract between the citizens and the state. For example, government can potentially use social media platforms to solicit feedback on its policies and political actions, while citizens can use the same platforms to express and vent their anger, frustrations or acceptance of whatever actions government is undertaking. Online tools and social media can open new avenues for participation. Social media platforms can help citizens explore new ways of cooperation and collective action, they can provide opportunities for mobilising people around a common cause or for sensitising the public on specific issues. Unlike traditional media, social media are an open space, potentially giving every individual a means to directly reach out to the public. The advancement of online content and social media has greatly expanded the variety of sources of information.

Telling stories to the general public, providing crucial information and influencing perceptions is no longer a preserve of traditional media. The difference remains that social media because of its unregulated nature can disseminate news without any filter or direct control, while traditional media houses still perform the function of an intermediary who filters, analyses and explains information before it goes public.

If we consider access to information and participatory engagement key features of democracy, then we can argue that the rise of internet and social media can have a democratising effect on our modern societies. But how strong is this democratising impact in reality? Does the availability of diverse information in the open space of the internet enhance transparency and accountability? Or does the explosion of unfiltered information rather produce more confusion, populism, defamation and hate speech? Do we see a more informed and active citizenry? Or are we rather looking at a generation of “slacktivists” or “clicktivists” as some observers argue?

 

You can download the whole report as pdf.

Contact Person

Verena Kasirye

Verena Kasirye

Programme Officer

verena.kasirye@kas.de +256 312 262 011/2
Event Reports
July 23, 2015
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About this series

The series analyses developmental challenges in the political, social and economic sphere in Uganda. The editions examine hot topics of the daily political agenda and undertake a rigorous reality check. Reality Check is published in cooperation with Centre for Development Alternatives.

Ordering Information

Editor

Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V.

ISBN

978 9970 477 07 4