Social media plays bigger role today

Article by: Bob Montgomery | Spartanburg Herald Journal

Social media is playing a bigger role in politics today -- with politicians using the media to take their views directly to voters, election experts at Spartanburg Community College said Thursday.

“Unlike television news, you can immediately respond to what’s being said -- put your own two cents in,” SCC political science professor Allison Ellis said of social media. “Since it’s behind a screen, that allows people to feel like they can say some things maybe they wouldn’t say in people’s faces.”

Ellis was one of five panelists who held a Lyceum Lecture discussion called “Elections 101: What to Know Before You Vote.”

Other panelists were Gordon Dill, investigative reporter with WSPA-TV; Scott Huffman, director of the Winthrop University Poll; Henry Laye, director of elections for Spartanburg County; and Karen Mitchell, president of the League of Women Voters of Spartanburg County.

The moderator was Anthony Mims, political science instructor at SCC

Panelists discussed issues such as voter fraud, the electoral college, women in politics, voter turnout, polling and social media.

At SCC, Ellis teaches classes on political behavior, campaigns, elections, the media and politics.

She said many people still watch television news, but with social media voters can participate in live discussions or voice their opinions.

Elected officials too have discovered that they can deliver their message directly to voters without having to go through traditional media, she said.

President Trump, she said, is a prime example with his frequent use of Twitter.

“With a newspaper or television, you’re having kind of this middle man to deliver the message in a different way,” Ellis said. “Whereas with social media, Trump or any politician can go on it and say what they want to say, without having that filter through another source.”

Dill said many viewers who formerly got their information from traditional television news are turning to cable news channels that align with their own beliefs.

“People seek out news to confirm what they already want to believe,” Dill said. “That’s true of all of us. That’s a human condition. It’s confirmation bias. We all have it.”

Dill said providing objective political news can be challenging.

“On a national level, objective information -- the kind of news we are trained to try and give people -- is very difficult to deliver to people because, frankly, they don’t want to hear it,” he said. “And we get a lot of feedback from people. If we give you news you didn’t want to hear, people will accuse us of lying. It makes them angry. And they change the channel.”

Dill said social media caters to a person’s political bias.

“Facebook’s job is to keep you on Facebook as long as possible to serve the maximum number of ads,” he said. “Twitter’s job is to keep you scrolling as long as possible to deliver the maximum number of ads and gather the most data from you as possible.

“Frankly on local news we want you to watch the entire eight-and-a-half-hour broadcast. It becomes a sort of perverse bias for those delivering the news. Don’t agitate your viewers and tell them things they don’t want to hear.

“The greater challenge is viewers and voters have to overcome their own biases and frankly, I don’t have a good solution how to do that.”

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