Democracy derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. In the present, the citizenry make no large attempts to be informed or aware of political developments. This assertion is corroborated by the consistent lamentation of ill-informed voters. It is very challenging to get people interested and invested in politics as a part of their daily lives. To get people to hold any informed opinion takes a considerable amount of spent time, favor, and skill.
The era of social media has the potential to change the way we consume politics and increase access to political media for the better; through social media, politicians are placed directly in front of their constituents. By following representatives directly, people subvert potential and perceived bias on the part of the news media. This subversion of bias is important because bias can’t be used as a scapegoat by politicians who implement poor policy. Following politicians directly also encourages transparency.
When politicians tweet about one decision, but don’t about another, their omission can be interpreted by their constituents and by the news. This encourages ownership over the decisions they make and increases the channels constituents have to hold politicians accountable. As a result of the response process, politicians can further be held accountable directly by constituents who vocalize their concerns through social media channels. This enables more real time conversation with concerned constituents and forces representatives to fully consider the ramifications of a given policy. In addition, it increases political mobilization by generating communities of individuals who engage in discourse on different pieces of policy.
Donald Trump, in particular, has received considerable flack for his usage of twitter. We should not be too hasty in conflating his content with the vehicle of distribution. Although much of what Mr. Trump has said on Twitter has been reprehensible and misguided, it has been a direct channel to the president, rather than having his thoughts sieved through several filters to check for veracity and to control impact.
This has instilled a sense of authenticity to what he tweets, which has largely illuminated his complete ineptitude as a public servant. His usage of Twitter has in fact played a central role in establishing the body of evidence used to compel resistance to his most damaging policies. This discourse is altogether a healthy and radical departure from the world where social media is not used by politicians as a central means of communication.
News media creates inherent boundaries to the defeat of misperceptions. By tempering news consumption with the direct statements of representatives the resulting intersection creates channels for the pursuit of effective evidence based policy. The penalty for incorrect assertions is far greater for politicians than for news sources. By compelling transparency on the part of politicians and encouraging an active and open discussion on their policy proposals, power is given back to the constituents and the legitimacy of said initiatives is increased.
Social media provides a unique mechanism through which representatives can actively receive input from their constituents in a concise and manageable format. Representatives should work to actively develop this powerful tool for direct contact with their constituents, as it proves to be an effective way to increase the perceived and real legitimacy of their representation. This relationship is symbiotic for both the representative and the constituent and creates several tangential benefits to the structure of modern representation such as the potential to curtail misperceptions.
By utilizing social media as a vehicle of discourse between representative and constituent, less policy falls between the cracks of hot button issues. Politics has largely been oriented around big flashy issues which, I would venture to suggest, is a result of the market constraints placed on traditional news media. Due to the wildly different market structure between traditional news media and social media there is no such market force that compels politicians to singularly discuss hot button issues.
This leaves them with the theoretical ability to open discourse on every action they plan to take while serving as a representative. This not only works to improve awareness about the political process but also increases feedback on issues that, while not controversial, are still important to constituents. This process also builds in a channel for bias checking on the part of news media by allowing them to examine the posts of local constituents for potential omissions of actions and policy initiatives from their social media platforms. These omissions can then be examined by the press it can be brought to the attention of the constituents through news media.
This works to increase transparency, awareness, accountability, and a myriad of other desirable governance characteristics. Ultimately, this sort of consistent communication demands complete ownership over the decisions politicians make and forces them to demonstrate real value to their constituents. This complete presentation of candidate actions and the establishment of consistent communication has the potential for some powerful side effects. With a more complete and consistent picture of their representatives readily available to voters less emphasis will be necessary on campaigning and grandstanding on large issues. Voters can view representatives and challengers more holistically and representatives can spend more time working for their voters and less time worrying about reelection.
In the wake of the fake news phenomenon, it has become increasingly clear that there is a large burden on traditional news media to deal with the disbursement of balanced political information. Likely due to the ease of access to alternative news sources, traditional news media has been under fire as of late. By developing a political culture where representatives utilize the information infrastructure available to them to demonstrate to their representatives their goals and actions, the burden on traditional news media is lessened.
Traditional news media has a very important role to play as a watchdog of the political process. However, news media cannot be expected to be the sole mechanism through which all political thought is filtered, which is a reason— among many reasons— as to why this imposition of sole responsibility is ineffective, considering the potential for attack. Trump has illuminated this possibility to the American voter as a centerpiece of his campaign and administration. Regardless of the veracity of the claims of bias and/or intentful deception on the part of traditional news media the damage done to the ethos of an essential watchdog of government action is unsustainable.
By diversifying the mechanisms for accountability and increasing access to those who are less politically inclined accountability, transparency, and good governance win. In addition, direct lines of contact between representatives and constituents reduces framing biases that often contribute in a large way to the development of misperceptions. The same mechanism of omission checking previously discussed can be cross applied to lessen the impact of traditional news media providing unbalanced coverage.
Following politics can be an intimidating and challenging endeavor. Everyone knows that friend who has an "obsession" with politics. This reality does not need to be this way though. The tools of social media can allow for sweeping improvements in political mobilization and they are waiting for us, the constituents, to demand them. Presently in the U.S., there is a large amount of unrest with the way in which our politics is progressing. The way to bring the progression of politics more in line with the will of the people is to become more politically active. This does not need to be a herculean feat. There exists the technological infrastructure available to increase access to political mobilization without a dramatic effort requirement. Congressional approval ratings are abysmal; by pulling the defense of a crowd off of our constituents, we can demand more effective policy for the people not for interest.
Right now, you could follow just about every representative in the US Congress, and you should. At the very least, follow your representative and demand they update you on their voting and initiatives. The technological infrastructure for this sort of representative to constituent communication already exists. The only thing that is necessary for this kind of political culture to develop in the U.S. is a will for it to exist. The tangible benefits to the efficacy of our democracy and to the increase in access to the political process are well worth the time spent lobbying politicians to take an active stance in their maintenance of the representative/constituent relationship.