Reuters has reported that President Barack Obama has taken a swipe at the social media platforms that arguably catalysed his own rise to power. Addressing students at Hampton University, Virginia, yesterday, Obama criticised our 24/7 media environment for distracting and entertaining rather than empowering the masses. “This is not only putting new pressures on you. It is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy”, Obama said.
Interestingly, Obama also highlighted the importance of education in sifting through the many voices “clamouring for attention on blogs, on cable, on talk radio” in order to define what is ‘true’. He said that the reduction in barriers to entry to blogging platforms, which are now relatively simple to use, means “even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction”.
Now, I have to agree with the distracting qualities of social media; ask any undergraduate how the likes of Twitter and Facebook have impacted on their education and they will no doubt report hour upon hour of detrimental procrastination at the hands of these platforms! However, I can’t help but feel it is slightly hypocritical to criticise social media tools for imposing new strains on the operation of democracy whilst simultaneously demonstrating a dislike for the masses communicating freely. Essentially then, now that international social media platforms are increasingly accessible to every Joe Bloggs, we must educate people as to who they ought to listen to and who they shouldn’t, thus effectively removing the voices of the less politically desirable.
And there was me thinking that freedom of speech was a fundamental element of democracy.
Ironically, back in the UK our social media platforms exploded throughout the course of this year’s election and created a louder, wider-reaching publicity battle than ever before as political conversation enticed previously untapped audiences. The result? No clear winner and a hung parliament declared, which has consequently taken the right of choice away from the nation and a decision is now likely to be negotiated between the powers that be themselves.
Perhaps Obama had a point.