Comment on The polarizing act of social media by Betty Hancock

I think it’s important that you pointed out the danger in being able to filter our newsfeeds and Twitter feeds to hide comments that oppose our views. I think this feature is really dangerous for people with unethical belief systems, and I think the ability to only look at news we agree with has the potential to really divide and dumb down our nation.

Field Trip

I particularly enjoyed our class trip for the final session. I was fascinated by the work that they’re doing to research the future of politics and health. I had no idea that office even existed or that being a futurist was even a thing, so it was a great way to expose me to something new. I would love to keep in touch and hear about their future public events. It sounds like a great opportunity for continued education, and I love keeping tabs on what’s going on in the world.

Thank you everyone for a lovely quarter! It was a pleasure getting to know each of you, and I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors at Stanford and beyond!

The polarizing act of social media

Since playing with friends from a young age, most people are taught principles of fairness and to treat others like you want to be treated. This has to be implemented into a person’s thinking as early as possible. As we get older, groups become more influential as we mature. In today’s world, groups are formed differently, but have some the same powerful influences they had before social media. Social media mobilized communicating and connecting with people. It is effortless to find a group supporting a personal interest or cause. Because of this affordance, the expectations of belonging to multiple groups accompany the “always connected” modern lifestyle. In “The Daily We: Is the Internet really a blessing for democracy?,” Sunstein discusses and mentions empirical data about the tendencies of like-minded groups to make more extreme decisions than groups which include a wide range of opinions. Groups have always had a profound influences dating back to the historic extreme cults and clans such as the Klu Klux Klan. Groups such as these overshadow logical reasoning of an individual to support the more extreme ideals that mildly supported within a group. Peer pressure and other social factors influence this decision, but Sunstein pointed to the diversification of a group to be a determining factor.
Social media and its various platforms emphasize connecting with people and building massive online social networks. As social media has aged, so has the users and their networks. Most users have many connections/friends/followers that they have never met and never intend to interact with in the real world. Because of the growth of online social connections, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow for you to filter you news feed. This is a vital curation tool, but it also changes the dynamics of the diversification of the presented information. For example, if you see a comment you do not like or agree with on Facebook, the user has the option to remove this specific user’s post from their future news feeds. Like I mentioned, this is useful tool, but by eliminating opposing opinions, we fall into the trap Sunstein cites in her work. Lack of opposing opinions reinforce like-minded thinking even further and presents the threat of extreme decision making.

A few weeks ago, I saw an episode of Modern Family that I continued to forget to mention. This episode depicts the family communicating and interacting only through Skype. Claire, the mother, is attempting to patch up things with her daughter, Haley, after a boisterous fight. Claire is trying to find Haley to talk things out through video chatting the rest of her family. A few conspiracies were started around Haley’s ambiguous Facebook status and were reiterated by the family who had no knowledge of what Haley was up to. This episode relates to how groups influence an individual and how this influence is more extreme when derived from a group.


Comment on who is actually participating? by Luke

I think there’s some truth to what you said, but I also think that crowdfunded projects are an example of the public sphere, a battle for ideas where people vote with their voices. People who contribute to kickstarters or indiegogos or, especially Are just using words behind a keyboard, but those words have a tremendous capacity for quantitative change.

Comment on who is actually participating? by Michelle Xu

I agree, and I think I would go as far as saying that people will always be lazy. If there isn’t the prize right in front of their faces, it’s going to take a lot of voluntary action for the individual to vote or donate money for a cause. The Internet is basically free for the average consumer, so sharing an article might be the farthest the user is willing to go for a cause.

I mean, I think that’s why advertising exists. It’s clever and strategic, which is why big business that have the money are able to get to where they are today.

Comment on Social Media and Protesting by Michelle Xu

I definitely agree with some of your sentiments. I too worry about the power of protesting in our current day and age, when people feel like sharing a video or retweeting a tweet means they’ve done their part for a particular cause.

The speed of the Internet is something I haven’t thought about before you mentioned it here. Not only do we have access to a lot of information today, but we also are constantly getting news. Sometimes, it honestly feels like news articles are going in one ear and leaving the other, one after another. I wish there was a way or an algorithm for information to be filtered onto my newsfeed and dashboards, but that also could bleed into who gets to say that I do and don’t see.

who is actually participating?

Respond to this quote from last week’s reading: “It seems most likely that the virtual public sphere brought about by [computer–mediated communication] will serve a cathartic role, allowing the public to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation.”

The public sphere is supposed to a place where citizens can come together and discuss issues they have with public policy. Public sphere is intended to be a place where every voice can be heard with equal amount of influence as all other members of society. Since the growth of technology and social media, the public sphere has been transformed much like the other societal institutions. For an environment to be considered a public sphere, it must:

  • Disregard of status: Preservation of “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether. […] Not that this idea of the public was actually realized in earnest in the coffee houses, salons, and the societies; but as an idea it had become institutionalized and thereby stated as an objective claim. If not realized, it was at least consequential.” (loc. cit.)
  • Domain of common concern: “… discussion within such a public presupposed the problematization of areas that until then had not been questioned. The domain of ‘common concern’ which was the object of public critical attention remained a preserve in which church and state authorities had the monopoly of interpretation. […] The private people for whom the cultural product became available as a commodity profaned it inasmuch as they had to determine its meaning on their own (by way of rational communication with one another), verbalize it, and thus state explicitly what precisely in its implicitness for so long could assert its authority.” (loc. cit.)
  • Inclusivity: However exclusive the public might be in any given instance, it could never close itself off entirely and become consolidated as a clique; for it always understood and found itself immersed within a more inclusive public of all private people, persons who – insofar as they were propertied and educated – as readers, listeners, and spectators could avail themselves via the market of the objects that were subject to discussion. The issues discussed became ‘general’ not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility: everyone had to be able to participate. […] Wherever the public established itself institutionally as a stable group of discussants, it did not equate itself with the public but at most claimed to act as its mouthpiece, in its name, perhaps even as its educator – the new form of bourgeois representation” (loc. cit.).


But, in my opinion, public sphere depends on the means of open communication. Today’s technology and social media networks afford us with an open line of communication with basically everyone in the world. This affordance has advanced our lives to where we are today by transporting valuable life changing information instantaneously.

However, because the ability to participate in public debate has become so easy, people assume online participation is enough and never act on their support. Participating and congregating online has proven to be a powerful tool, but without physical action, it is mostly just words on a screen. Feeling appeased by online participation lowers the number of people who traditionally participate. This ease has harmed the public levels of participation and I only see it getting worse. By participating online, people feel included and needed which appeases a vital part of our human nature. People who feel included are less angered by whatever the outcome because they feel as if they have done their part. This is a dangerous path for the public to follow. During the President Obama’s election campaign, I remember the amount of people hoping he would get elected, but were not planning to vote. This is not a direct correlation with the subject matter, but it demonstrates how people are slow to act when it comes to public policy, even when they support the cause. I think modern technology has elevated this even further, but hopefully, the policy makers will adjust and implement more technology in their communication and research methods.