The introduction of the internet and social media brought a new era of politics and political discourse. Political news and political conversation have become a large part of the overall online space. Through social media, we are able to interact with politicians and access news in ways we were not able to before. For better or worse, the internet has given activists the ability to easily share information and organize political movements on a much larger scale.
The internet has made news much more accessible to a large audience. Most newspapers now have their own websites that essentially serve as digital newspapers. Additionally, social media has helped to make news more accessible. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have made news more available to an ever-growing audience. More and more people have started getting their news from social media. A study conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 46% of Americans use social media as a news source. (Newman et al.). The number of people who get their news online has increased since this study was conducted. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2020 found “More than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (86%) say they get news from a smartphone, computer or tablet “often” or “sometimes,” including 60% who say they do so often,” (Shearer).
Not only has social media made news more accessible but stories tend to break on social media before they break on more traditional forms of media. Social media users have been able to report on stories much faster than traditional. A great example of this was the reporting on the Ebola outbreak. Nichole Tucker explains how social media reported on the Ebola outbreak. She states that twitter users were not only responsible for breaking the story but relaying the details of the outbreak to over 60 million people in a span of three days (Tucker).
With an increase in the spread of news on social media came an increase in spread of misinformation on social media. The opinionated nature of social media made it a place commonly used for political discourse. There are many bad actors who use this discourse to spread misinformation in order to spread misinformation. And while the misinformation can always be debunked, people will still see it and believe it. This has led to misinformation spreading faster on social media. A study published in the journal “Science” found that “lies spread six time faster than the truth on Twitter, and ‘fake News’ is retweeted more often than true news,” (Aral, Roy, Vosoughi). I think a majority of where the misinformation is coming from has a lot to do with how quickly misinformation spreads. On social media everyone has an opinion, and when massive celebrities or large media groups give their opinions, people see them as facts. We all know someone we need to unfriend on Facebook because they can’t stop posting their insane opinions, but when the person posting those opinions has millions of followers and a massive platform, it could have some really damaging effects. Joe Rogan is a perfect example of this. Joe Rogan is a massive celebrity and host of the number one podcast in America with millions of fans who was spreading verifiably false information about COVID-19 in the midst of the pandemic. In 2021, Joe Rogan announced in an Instagram video that he had caught covid. In the video he talked about how he was treating his covid, and one of the methods of treatment mentioned was Ivermectin. He would go on to have doctors like Dr. Pierre Kory on his podcast to defend his use of Ivermectin as a means to treat COVID. This led a large group of people to believe that Ivermectin was effective in treating covid simply because he had taken it, when in reality it is virtually ineffective in treating COVID.
We can see the effect of disinformation on society in many other ways than people’s beliefs on Covid. For example, a certain group of victims of misinformation have been making waves in American politics since 2020. That group is none other than Q anon. Q anon is a group of conspiracy theorists grounded in support for former president Donald Trump. Q anon was started by an anonymous 4Chan user going by the name “Q” falsely claiming that a cabal of satanic cannibalistic sexual abusers operating a sex trafficking ring conspired against Donald Trump during his term in office. Q anon quickly spread within far-right circles and entered the mainstream political conversation after the 2020 presidential election due to their spreading of the stolen election conspiracy. The people who bought into the idea of Q anon are victims of misinformation. These people will give up everything, including relationships with their families, because of lies spread by someone who probably doesn’t even believe the lies they told.
If there is a conversation being had about misinformation, Facebook must be a part of it. Recently, Facebook has been under fire for the amount of COVID misinformation being spread on the site. A Washington post article titled “Misinformation on Facebook got six times more clicks than factual news during the 2020 election, study says,” talks about a study by researchers at New York University and the Université Grenoble Alpes in France that examined the misinformation on Facebook. The article states that “The peer-reviewed study by researchers at New York University and the Université Grenoble Alpes in France has found that from August 2020 to January 2021, news publishers known for putting out misinformation got six times the number of likes, shares, and interactions on the platform as did trustworthy news sources, such as CNN or the World Health Organization,” (Dowskin). This discovery almost makes it look like Facebook’s algorithm had been favoring and promoting posts of disinformation. Then, in October of 2021, more information about misinformation on Facebook. A Facebook whistleblower testified in a congressional hearing that Facebook was only able to effectively police one-fifth of the misinformation posted on the site. So not only did it seem like Facebook’s algorithm favored misinformation, but it was discovered that Facebook was unable to properly regulate the information being posted to the site.
The internet has not only served as a means for obtaining political news, it has been a way to source for political awareness and activism. The summer of 2020 was a very heated and tumultuous time. The period of civil unrest that was the summer of 2020 was sparked by a video posted online, showing the inhumane murder of George Floyd by former police officer Derek Chauvin. This video being posted led to the biggest civil rights movement since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Massive Black Lives Matter protests started popping up in cities across America. Many issues regarding race relations in America were highlighted at that time, especially the systemic racism within the American criminal justice system. This massive political movement actually managed to shift the public opinion on some of these racial issues. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in October of 2020 found “Roughly a quarter (23%) of adult social media users in the United States – and 17% of adults overall – say they have changed their views about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media in the past year,” (Perrin). The survey also found that “when asked to elaborate on the things they have changed their views about, these adults often mention the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality. They also mention changes in their views about political parties, ideologies and political figures,” (Perrin). The findings of this survey lead me to believe that the Black Lives Matter movement’s activism on the ground and online led to a shift in the public opinion of police brutality and other political issues.
Overall, the internet and social media have had a major impact, both positively and negatively, on the way we interact with politics. With the internet we are able to easily access news whenever we want, have open discussions on political topics, and organize political activism on a much larger scale than ever before. And while there is a large problem with the spreading of harmful misinformation, on the internet we have the ability to publicly debunk false claims. Personally, I think the internet has the potential to aid in the creation of large-scale movements that could bring about wide scale political change.
Dwoskin, E. (2021, September 10). Misinformation on facebook got six times more clicks than factual news during the 2020 election, study says. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/09/03/facebook-misinformation-nyu-study/
Dickson, E. J. (2021, September 3). How Joe Rogan became a cheerleader for ivermectin. Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 17, 2022, from https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/joe-rogan-covid19-misinformation-ivermectin-spotify-podcast-1219976/
Frenkel, S. (2021, January 6). The storming of Capitol Hill was organized on social media. The New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/06/us/politics/protesters-storm-capitol-hill-building.html
Newman Nick, David A. Levy, Richard Fletcher, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen,”Digital News Report 2016.” Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk
Tucker Nichole, “Study Shows That Twitter Broke the Ebola Outbreak Story Before Health Officials,” inquisitr.com, June 3, 2015
Perrin, A. (2020, October 16). 23% of users in U.S. say social media led them to change views on an issue; some cite black lives matter. Pew Research Center. Retrieved March 20, 2022,
Roose, K. (2020, August 18). What is Qanon, the viral pro-trump conspiracy theory? The New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-qanon.html
Shearer, E. (2021, January 12). More than eight-in-ten Americans get news from Digital Devices. Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/12/more-than-eight-in-ten-americans-get-news-from-digital-devices/
Slotnik, D. E. (2021, October 26). Whistle-blower unites Democrats and Republicans in calling for regulation of Facebook. The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2022,
Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, Sinan Aral, “The Spread of True and False News Online,” Science, Mar. 2018