Are Facebook, Twitter, fostering civic engagement?

Emily Badger writes in Miller-McCune Magazine about the link between social media and civic engagement.

Since the first days of the Arab Spring, social media has been celebrated for its role in helping to foment democracy in countries that don’t yet have it. An intriguing though less dramatic question back home is this: Can it also be used to strengthen democracy and civic engagement in countries like the U.S. that do have it?

The answer isn’t so obvious. Political operatives and White House insiders have touted the power of Facebook, Twitter and Google to engage the public in election season and the governing decisions that follow. But contrarian voices have sprung up to suggest those platforms have hidden consequences, encouraging “slacktivism” as much as activism, and narrowing our world view rather than expanding it.

Most controversially of late, Eli Pariser suggests in the new book The Filter Bubble that today’s hyper-personalized Facebook feeds and Google search results may just feed us information from the people who already think like us and about news that confirms what we already believe. By using indicators we provide about ourselves — when we “like” Sarah Palin’s Facebook page — Pariser suggests social networks may be tailoring content to our biases, filtering out precisely the opposing views a globally connected Internet was supposed to facilitate.

Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion, suggests meanwhile that “group fetishism” has led us to confuse quantity with quality in online activism. After all, it’s easy to be “engaged” in politics when all you have to do is “like” a candidate or her cause.

This, Morozov writes, “all too often leads to civic promiscuity — usually the result of a mad shopping binge in the online identity supermarket that is Facebook — that makes online activists feel useful and important while having preciously little political impact.”

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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