Expert can discuss future of social media and its impact on U.S. democracy

Release Date: January 7, 2021

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Monica Stephens.
“We’ve already seen the impacts of differential news on a broad audience, and my concern is that this may further the segregation of social media into ideologically driven echo-chambers, leaving the interpretation of events subject to the particular platform selected. ”
Monica Stephens, assistant professor of geography
University at Buffalo and Durham University

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo expert Monica Stephens is available to discuss the role of social media in global politics, and how the social media landscape may shift in coming weeks, months and years.

Stephens, PhD, is an assistant professor of geography in the UB College of Arts and Sciences and at Durham University.

She analyzes social media to understand how user-generated content is impacting communities, social relations and democratic processes. Among other topics, she is interested in incivility in social media, as well as the role of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms in spreading misinformation. Stephens’ research also deals with digital divides: who contributes to Internet forums, and why there are disparities in the characteristics of users.

Stephens can discuss the social media landscape following the Jan. 6 insurrection in which supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the process of confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

Among other topics, Stephens can address:

  • The suspension of Trump’s accounts on Twitter and Facebook
  • Efforts by social media platforms to prevent the spread of misinformation
  • The rise of Parler and other new social media platforms
  • How social media users and journalists can help prevent the spread of conspiracy theories

“I think that given the circumstances, Twitter did the right thing,” Stephens says. “But the challenge is that by suspending Trump from Twitter, I do think it does more to move his supporters to Parler. We’ve already seen the impacts of differential news on a broad audience, and my concern is that this may further the segregation of social media into ideologically-driven echo-chambers, leaving  the interpretation of events subject to the particular platform selected.”

The rise of competitors in the social media industry “is not surprising,” Stephens says. “More competitors are coming into that space. This is how industries evolve over time. There will be more. Different tastes are satisfied through a different product.”

The question now is how social media should be governed, Stephens says: “I don’t think the solution for democracy is to have less social media, but it’s to make sure that we have checks and balances within that system. Social media is a platform where people can gather and unite. Giving people the ability to communicate and connect is a good thing for democracy, but social media is also a tool that can be misused. If social media platforms just allow misinformation to proliferate, I think you would see more people radicalized.”

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