Can Social Media Affect Politics?
Can Social Media Affect Politics?

Can Social Media Affect Politics?

The Netherlands is representative democracy: citizens elect political representatives and they make decisions on their behalf. Citizens have final control because they can send their representatives away after some time. But citizens do not have a direct daily influence. Many find this hopelessly outdated.

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There is also an alternative: direct democracy. Citizens have a direct influence because they are asked to give their opinion in all kinds of decisions. Citizens then make their own decisions or do so together with politicians. This is an ideal that has often been put forward by a party like D66 in the past. Nowadays, the PVV is especially in favor of it. Many feel that this is more appropriate for this time.

DO CITIZENS MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD?
Many citizens are present on all kinds of social media. These media have also become a medium for citizens to talk about politics. Yet the question is whether all citizens use social media equally for political matters. That is not true. On the internet, it is mainly the higher educated, men and young people who are politically active. When we listen to the opinions of citizens on the internet, we only listen to this part of the population. This is also known as ‘diploma democracy’: the higher educated get the chance to shout out the lower educated. The higher educated often have different opinions and interests than the less educated. They often also have different party preferences. It is therefore a problem if we start listening to ‘the citizen’ via social media.

IS THE CITIZEN’S VOICE HEARD?
Politicians in the Netherlands have become insecure. There are floating voters, declining party supporters, fewer volunteers, and many disaffected citizens. This creates a need to listen better to citizens, but listening is still not their main task. Most politicians have a part-time position. During that time they have to do many things: hold meetings, maintain party contacts, read documents, obtain information, and speak to the media.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES?
The question, however, is what happens when politicians start listening to citizens. Politicians mainly come across a lot of irrelevant information online. Many opinions of citizens are not substantiated, many arguments of citizens were already known, there may be new information to be found, but filtering it out takes a lot of time, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that new information will come out of the statements of citizens at all.

IS DIRECT DEMOCRACY BETTER?
In a direct democracy, the same citizens are active who are active today in our representative democracy. The majority are not active and only sometimes vote. Many citizens are already tired when elections are held too often. Still, active citizens want to make their voices heard more often and advocate more direct democracy. However, this is primarily an opportunity to permanently overpower others. The existing problem of diploma democracy is getting worse. So there are many similarities between a representative and direct democracy. A small group of citizens is an active and real dialogue between citizens and politicians is scarce because it is physically impossible and there is simply a lack of time. Politicians also have to meet together. In a direct democracy, however, there is more pressure on politicians to enter into dialogue, and the chance that citizens will have influence increases. The question remains whether all citizens will make equal use of it. Probably not, and then the question still arises who exactly gets along with all those active citizens.