Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

The democratic political process is broken


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Role of Media in civil society

Why in the news? 

Due to the loss of credibility, many institutional news media struggle to establish a factual foundation or maintain control over diverse social narratives, affecting society, media principles, and the Political milieu in India.

The Present Scenario of Discourse in News Media:

  • Institutional Crises: Loss of credibility in institutional news media leads to a lack of establishment of factual baseline and narrative control. Without credibility, news media struggles to maintain authority and trust, hindering its role in shaping public discourse.
  • Impact on Public Discourse: The rise of social media has decentralized content creation and dissemination. Virality, rather than substance, becomes the primary measure of content value. Prioritization of engagement over quality and veracity distorts public discourse.
  • Hyper-partisanship in Media: Loss of credibility in mainstream media contributes to hyper-partisanship. News and content are utilized as tools to promote factional interests rather than fostering dialogue and deliberation. Lack of interest in genuine discourse further exacerbates divisions within society.
  • Fragmentation of Attention: The proliferation of media channels leads to the fragmentation of collective attention. A constant stream of transient content makes issues appear less significant. Gaining visibility and capturing attention becomes paramount, overshadowing the importance of substantive dialogue.
  • Individual Battles and Tribal Affiliation: Public discourse becomes a battleground for individual interests seeking attention and reinforcing tribal affiliations. Lack of genuine dialogue hampers the evolution of consensus, further polarizing society.

Present Scenario of Discourse in Civil Society:

  • Increase in Dependency: Liberal civil society increasingly directs its efforts towards engaging with the state and its institutions. Dependency on the state for functioning compromises civil society’s autonomy and independence.
  • Legitimacy Issues: Civil society’s legitimacy is now derived more from normative purity than representativeness. This shift undermines civil society’s ability to truly represent diverse viewpoints and reconcile conflicting interests.
  • Undermining Societal issues: Civil society becomes more inclined towards single-issue campaigns rather than engaging in broader negotiation and consensus-building. This narrow focus limits its effectiveness in addressing complex societal issues.
  • Bypassing Political Processes: Civil society groups tend to bypass political processes and opt for institutional interventions, such as judicial or bureaucratic avenues, to advance their agendas. This strategy may sideline democratic processes and undermine the role of elected representatives in decision-making.

The Present Scenario of Discourse in Political Parties:

  • Internal Focus of Political Parties: Political parties often prioritize internal issues over broader deliberations and policy formulation. This internal focus detracts from the party’s ability to engage in constructive dialogue and address pressing societal issues.
  • Unable to play a role: Elected representatives are expected to translate constituency issues into a policy agenda. However, within the party setup, they often lack the power and inclination to do so effectively.
  • Uncertain Electoral Payoff: Elected representatives may prioritize direct interventions for constituent services over influencing the policy agenda due to uncertain electoral benefits.
  • Complex Electoral Dynamics: Elections involve a mix of constituency, state, and national issues, making it challenging for representatives to effectively represent their constituents’ interests. Candidates often rely heavily on party symbols for electoral success, diminishing the significance of individual policy agendas.
  • Power Dynamics within Parties: Decision-makers for party tickets hold significant power within political parties, influencing candidate selection and party direction. Limited institutional positions of power lead to internal power struggles and sycophancy among aspirants.

Way Forward:

  • Rebuilding Credibility: Implement measures to enhance transparency and accountability within news organizations. Encourage fact-checking and adherence to journalistic standards. Promote diversity of perspectives in news reporting to rebuild trust with diverse audiences.
  • Regulation for Social Media Platforms: Implement regulations to combat misinformation and promote responsible content sharing. Foster partnerships between social media companies and fact-checking organizations to verify information.
  • Promote Digital Literacy: Invest in education and public awareness campaigns to enhance media literacy among citizens. Equip individuals with critical thinking skills to discern credible sources from misinformation. Foster a culture of skepticism and verification when consuming news and information online.
  • Encouraging Civil Society Engagement: Provide support for civil society initiatives that promote inclusivity and dialogue among diverse stakeholders. Enhance funding and resources for civil society organizations to reduce dependency on the state and encourage autonomy.
  • Facilitate Political Dialogue and Reform: Encourage political parties to prioritize policy formulation and public deliberation over internal politics. Reform electoral systems to reduce the influence of party symbols and empower individual candidates with policy agendas.

Conclusion: The broken democratic process is exacerbated by media credibility loss, civil society’s state dependency, and internal party issues. Rebuilding media trust, regulating social media, promoting dialogue, and empowering civil society is crucial for restoration.

Mains PYQ-

Q- How do pressure groups influence Indian political process? Do you agree with this view that informal pressure groups have emerged as powerful than formal pressure groups in recent years? ( UPSC IAS/2017 ) 

Q- Can Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organisations present an alternative model of public service delivery to benefit the common citizen? Discuss the challenges of this alternative model.(UPSC IAS/2021)

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