Sitting on a bench waiting for a North-South bus, I find myself passing the time by scrolling through social media feeds. I’m not alone either. Many students are waiting alongside me, eyes glued to screens, indulging in all of the wonders a smartphone has to offer. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 88 percent of young American adults — those ages 18 to 29 — own smartphones.
We’ve all seen the visible effects of this technological change — newspaper boxes filled with slimmer papers, magazines’ gradual shift from print to web. News coverage has changed for a growing, fast-paced society where people are constantly connected through technology. In turn, these changes are affecting how we perceive important issues.
To reach a larger audience, traditional media has extended its arms to the social media world, creating Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, and more to spread news. Due to character limits, space constraints, and diminished attention spans, news stories have become short, 140-characters-or-fewer updates that are intended to be read in a matter of seconds. This condensation often glosses over and oversimplifies complicated issues.
For example, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 contains thousands of pages of material and regulations. The bill aimed to give every American an affordable insurance plan. In practice, however, it caused many previously insured Americans to lose their coverage. How can a brief social media post accurately explain the consequences of the Affordable Care Act? A 140-character tweet only gives a snippet — a headline that doesn’t truly explain how constraining the market actually increases insurance prices by canceling the effects of competition, not to mention how aspects of the bill pose problems for religious freedom. As many people get their news from headlines on social media sources, how can America have a voter base which is informed about the issues that matter most?
Our generation is the first to grow up with ubiquitous use of social media. Moreover, its use in the public sphere is only increasing, perpetuating the endless stream of shallow surveys of important issues. This is a disturbing trend. After all, media consumption is supposed to fuel meaningful conversation, not diminish it.
—Baylee Culverhouse is a freshman studying political science and English. Elizabeth Ridgeway is Publisher of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE
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