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Social media are ruining political discourseND

Jay David Bolter, The Atlantic, May 2019

YouTube’s design to catch you and not let go, where it suggest related content endlessly, seems harmless enough when you’re simply watching movie trailers for half an hour instead of the five minutes you’d planned for. But what if you followed a link to a conspiracy video, which led you to one conspiracy video after another? False conspiracy theories often featured on YouTube can delude the public, but social media’s negative impact on the political process isn’t just down to their content – it’s also built on the structure of the applications they’re housed in. Propaganda has existed in some form or another since the invention of the printing press. It’s not new. But social media seem particularly susceptible to spreading disinformation. In large part this is due to the idea of ‘flow’ – a psychological idea adopted as a digital-design strategy by video games. Flow focuses on keeping the user moving from one element to the next, repetitively, in search of gratification from the act of consuming media rather than from engaging with its content. When programs such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are used for political messaging, they bring flow along into the political process, even if the messages they carry are truthful and non-conspiratorial. That makes these media a threat to coherent political discourse from the age of print. This has clear implications for corporations and their corporate public affairs teams.

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