How does social media change our (political) behaviour?

On 7 April, EACA participated in a webinar hosted by EU DisinfoLab featuring the lead authors of the recent European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) report, Technology and Democracy: Understanding the Influence of Online Technologies on Political Behaviour and Decision-Making.

The report analyses the influence of online technologies on political behaviour and decision-making and shows that 48% of Europeans use social media daily and interact politically online. It also states that social media has a causal effect on people’s political behaviour, including inciting dangerous behaviours such as hate crimes.

Four key ‘pressure points’ are identified within the report, i.e. challenges that emerge when we interact politically on online platforms that are not subject to much public oversight or democratic governance.

  • Attention economy’, i.e., the ability of social media to capture and hold people’s attention as well as to shape their opinions and political actions without them realising who is behind this influence.
  • Choice architectures‘ of platforms that encourage people to interact, without them being aware of the data they produce and provide to others.
  • Algorithmic content: depending on where a person is located, the algorithms will produce different results. There is a risk of manipulation of the information the person receives based on the operation of the algorithms.
  • Misinformation‘: tends to attract people’s attention, so there is a risk that algorithms may highlight it.

The study underpins several initiatives announced by the Commission to address issues arising from social media: The Digital Services Act and the European Action Plan for Democracy. EACA submitted comments on both initiatives, which can be found here and here.

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