STUDENT VOICE: Social media amplifies & reflects, but at what cost?


By Tanissa Ringo, UM freshman

The Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics hosted the “Digital Threats to Democracy” discussion panel last Wednesday. I attended the event not knowing what would be in store.

I expected a small, older audience, a panel discussion of a dull topic that wouldn’t be found relevant in my life and a selection of panelists that wouldn’t be able to capture or maintain my attention. My expectations were proven to be wrong as soon as I stepped into the Overby Auditorium.

I thought the main topic that was discussed was pretty interesting. How is our democracy being challenged in digital spaces? How do we navigate through those challenges? Before that initial question was asked, I realized that I never thought of our democracy being threatened by online presences.

I always felt that with the world becoming a much more digital place in the modern era, that it would unify society. It wasn’t until Co-Founder of EdgeTheory, Greg Griffith, explored the idea of how the digital world actually creates a deeper divide between us all. I felt that his point was really eye-opening.

Griffith explained, with much detail, that the internet has made it quite easy for individuals to segregate themselves into communities, essentially classifying themselves as “fanatics.”

I really enjoyed hearing investigative reporter and author Andy Kroll. I thought his answers and points made during the panel were very compelling, especially when he mentioned his book, A Death on W Street. Kroll spoke of social media, conspiracy theories and the effects of both on democracy.

I agree with his point that social media amplifies and reflects what people believe and what they want to say. I think this point connects to Griffith’s in saying that these reflections are gradually becoming more pronounced due to the rise of social media.

Kroll recalled how social media started to shift around 2015 and 2016.

“It wasn’t just that social media was reflecting and amplifying what people believed, but that reflection was becoming increasingly distorted,” Kroll said.

The distortion that was being discussed made me think of the initial question. How is our democracy being challenged in digital spaces? If social media was becoming distorted during that time, then it’s only gotten worse since that shift.

Truth is constantly being blinded through social media. Dean Andrea Hickerson, whose research focuses on the intersection of journalism and technology and the workings of deep fakes, gave insight on how scary the distortion of truth is becoming in the world of technology.

She discussed that technology does in fact keep changing, making videos “harder and harder to detect if they’ve been doctored or not.” When the Dean said this, I think my fear for fact-checking intensified.

If the advancement of technology results in the evolution of deep fakes, how can we navigate through that challenge without completely damaging the modern world?