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We Need a Media System That Serves People's Needs, Not Corporations' – Jacobin magazine

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We Need a Media System That Serves People’s Needs, Not Corporations’

Our corporate media system prioritizes making money over producing adversarial journalism and covering working-class issues. We should dare to imagine something different: a public media system that privileges democracy over profits.

Pedestrians walk by the San Francisco Chronicle building on February 24, 2009 in San Francisco, CA. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

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The past decade has witnessed the rapid decline of the newspaper industry in the United States. Revenue and readership have dropped precipitously, halving the nation’s newspaper employees. Actual journalism is vanishing, misinformation is proliferating, and our public media system — ideally a safety net for when the market fails to support the press — remains utterly impoverished compared to its global counterparts. From the collapse of its advertising-dependent business model to the dominance of platform monopolies like Facebook and Google, the commercial news media system faces a structural crisis.

Commercial journalism never fulfilled all of society’s democratic needs, but now it’s abundantly clear that the market can’t support the bare minimum levels of news media — especially local, international, and investigative reporting — that democracy requires. Any path toward reinventing journalism must acknowledge that the market is its destructor, not savior. Commercialism lies at the heart of this crisis; removing it could be transformative.

If we acknowledge that no entrepreneurial solution lies just around the bend — if we stop grasping for a technological fix or a market panacea — we can look more aggressively for non-market alternatives. In doing so, we can dare to imagine a new public media system for the digital age, one that privileges democracy over profits. A journalism that seeks out silences in society and ruthlessly confronts those in power. An information system that maintains laser-like focus on climate change, hyper-inequality, mass incarceration, and other social emergencies. A media system that treats workers as more than an afterthought.

US history offers fleeting glimpses of an alternative system — experiments such as labor outlets, community-owned newspapers, media cooperatives, and, once upon a time, a thriving radical press. Even mainstream commercial news occasionally has provided investigative reporting that exposes corruption, changes policy, and benefits all of society. But these moments have been the exception. The history of US media is largely a history of misrepresentation, exclusion, excessive commercialism, and systemic market failure.

However, it didn’t — and doesn’t — have to be this way. Another media system is possible — one that’s democratically governed and accessible to all.

Infrastructures of Democracy

We learn in school that self-governance requires an informed society sustained by a free press. Yet we rarely reflect on the infrastructures and policies necessary to maintain such a system.

The loss of effective journalism and rampant misinformation are structural problems that require structural solutions. More to the point, they’re collective action problems that require policy interventions.

Salvaging a nonprofit model from the ashes of market-driven jour­nalism goes far beyond resuscitating a golden age that never existed or preserving a status quo steeped in inequality and discrimi­nation. Guided by an ethical commitment to ensuring that all members of society can access information and create their own media, a public system can provide a strong base for further democratization. De-commercialization is an essential first step.

The late sociologist Erik Olin Wright gave us a useful schematic to help think through the possibilities for de-commercializing jour­nalism and creating a truly public system. Wright proposed four general models for building alternatives to capitalism, each based on a different logic of resist­ance: smashing, taming, escaping, or eroding. After assessing these four approaches, Wright suggested that simultaneously eroding and taming capitalist relationships over time offered the best strategy for change — pushing to reform the existing system in ways that improve people’s everyday lives (taming), while also erecting alternative structures that gradually replace commercial models (eroding).

We can apply this strategic vision to our media system, with five general approaches:

  • Establishing “public options” (i.e., noncommercial/nonprofit, supported by public subsidies), such as well-funded public media institutions and municipal broadband networks.
  • Breaking up/preventing media monopolies and oligopolies to en­courage diversity and to curtail profit-maximizing behavior.
  • Regulating news outlets through public interest protections and public ser­vice obligations such as ascertainment of society’s information needs.
  • Enabling worker control by unionizing newsrooms and facilitating media cooperatives.
  • Fostering community ownership, oversight, and governance of newsrooms, and mandating accountability to diverse constituencies.

While we should pursue these approaches simultaneously, the most surefire way to tame and erode commercial media is to create a truly publicly owned system.

Creating a New Public Media System

In the US, proposing massive public investments in news media usually elicits two immediate objections. One is the concern that a publicly subsidized system would create a mouthpiece for the state. The other is cost.

Regarding the first, real-world examples suggest that media subsidies aren’t a slippery slope toward authoritarianism. Democratic nations around the globe heavily subsidize media while enjoying democratic benefits that put the US to shame. Public media and stronger democracies often go together.

Nonetheless, any public media system must erect a firewall to separate it from government and other powerful influences. Although government would play a key administrative role in establishing and protecting this system, it should be publicly operated, independent, and democratic in determining what specific kinds of media content and news outlets are supported. Political autonomy must be tethered to economic independence with adequate funding and resources — otherwise we’d simply reenact past errors and recreate another weak public system susceptible to political and economic capture.

On the question of cost, we must first remind ourselves that a viable press system isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity. Similar to a classic “merit good,” journalism isn’t a “want,” but a “need.” To support this social necessity, rough estimates suggest we need an annual budget of around $30 billion.

That may seem large, but relative to the problem — and compared to the outlays for recent tax cuts and military expenditures — it’s actually a modest proposal. This is especially true considering the enormous costs to society if we continue without a functioning press system.

Ideally, we would have a guaranteed annual budget that would come directly from the US Treasury, but a second op­tion would be a large trust fund supported by multiple rev­enue streams. Since this funding shouldn’t become a political football subject to the congressional appropriations pro­cess, it could be sustained by already-existing subsidies and mandated levies on communication oligopolies.

While individuals could contribute, a trust of this scope would require large funders. Possible sources might include levees on electronics and devices, tax vouchers, repurposing international broadcasting subsidies, proceeds from spectrum sales, and taxing platform monopolies such as Facebook and Google.

Permanent support for a well-funded national public media ser­vice could help guarantee universal access to quality news. This “public op­tion” for journalism can address commercial media’s endemic problems, which render our information systems vulnerable to structural crisis and elite capture.

What Would a Truly Public Media System Look Like?

The fight for an independent public media system doesn’t end with funding. Once we’ve created the material conditions for this new system, we must ensure it remains truly democratic, owned and controlled by journalists and representative members of the public and operated in a bottom-up, transparent fashion in constant dia­logue with community members. In short, these newsrooms must reflect the diverse audiences they serve.

We might envision this project in layers: the funding layer (how will this public media system be financially sustained?); the govern­ance layer (how will resource allocations and other key decisions be made democratically?); the ascertainment layer (how will information needs be determined?); the infrastructure layer (how can we ensure distribution of and access to information, including universal broadband service and algorithms that privilege public media in search and in news feeds?); and the engagement layer (how can we ensure that local communities are involved in making their own news and contributing their stories?).

While administrators could distribute resources via centralized hubs at the federal, state, and regional levels, local media bureaus that represent the communities where they reside should make key governance decisions. Federal and state-level commissions could calculate how resources should be deployed to target news deserts, meet spe­cial communication needs, and focus on addressing gaps in news coverage, especially around inequality, global warming, elections, and other specific social needs and problems. This system would require a public media consortium comprised of policy experts, scholars, technologists, journalists, and public advocates that specialize in work relevant to each of these layers, while always reporting to and engaging local communities.

Free from the economic imperative of appealing to wealthy owners, investors, advertisers, and high-income audiences, media outlets could abandon various forms of redlining to include entire classes and communities previously neglected. They might focus less on clickbait and fluffy news and more on coverage devoted to the poor and to working-class issues. Instead of folding labor news into the business sections of newspapers, we might see permanent beats with teams of dedicated labor journalists covering everything from workers’ everyday lives to picket lines and the plight of unions.

This kind of journalism could lay bare the social costs of policy failure and the structural roots of inequality. Taking a page from what is now called “solutions journalism,” it could devote unwavering attention to combatting social injustice.

Liberating journalists from commercial constraints would allow them to practice the craft that led them to the profession in the first place. It would let journalists be journalists. And it would give them a stake in the ownership and governance of media institutions. Journalists also need strong unions to protect labor conditions and democratize newsrooms. A truly public media system should include worker-run cooperatives and other forms of collective own­ership. Ultimately, public media means public ownership of media institutions.

The US media system is riven with stark inequalities. It reflects class and racial divides, just as it perpetuates them. But given the right structural conditions, journalism can instead be a force for social jus­tice and radical change.

Building viable noncommercial alternatives will be a long, hard slog. Many flowers will bloom and wither. But starting with the premise that commercial models are a dead end can reinvigorate tired conversations about the future of journalism — and free us to think more boldly and creatively.

Reframing the Media

Too often, we assume that the market’s effects on journalism are inevitable — a force of nature beyond social control — or a public expression of democratic desires (“Give the people what they want”). If consumers (or advertisers, investors, and media owners) don’t support certain kinds of journalism, the argument goes, the market has spoken and we must let them perish.

Imagine if we designed public education according to a similar logic. If students elected not to pay for civics class, then it would be discontinued. It’s precisely this savage logic that’s snuffing out journalism in broad daylight. Only public investments in noncommercial media can support journalism that’s expensive to produce but rarely profitable.

The current market-driven system isn’t neutral or natural. The decisions we make in structuring our media are deeply political, laden with value judgments. And the present system naturalizes the powerful and profitable while defunding adversarial journalism.

Now is the time for creating counter-narratives and radical alternatives to the still-dominant corporate lib­ertarian paradigm. A radical vision of public media requires a policy program that does the following: reduces monopoly power; installs public interest protections; removes commercial pressures; and builds out public infrastruc­ture.

At the state and municipal levels, we can work toward programs such as community broadband services and local journalism initiatives. For inspira­tion, we can look to past US experiments — from municipal newspapers to coop­erative telephone networks — to imagine what these institutions might look like.

Our long-term plans require a transfor­mation at the federal level — driven by social movements from below — to create a new national public media system that builds on already-existing public spaces and infrastructures, including post offices, libraries, and public broadcasting stations. As newspapers transition into nonprofit status, they could also be integrated into this public media network.

For too long, US society has had the wrong debate about saving journalism. Conditioned not to see capitalism’s corrosive impact on news media, too many analysts misdiagnosed the problem because they failed to see commercialism at its core. Instead, we must clarify the structural roots of the crisis, expand the political imaginary for potential futures, identify alternatives, and help chart a path toward realizing them. And we must look ahead rather than behind us. Waxing nostalgic about a golden era of newspaper reporting, or pining for the days of three major television networks when Walter Cronkite told us “and that’s the way it is,” brings us no closer to the type of public media system that democracy requires.

Our goal must be to reinvent news media, not shore up old commercial models. Given this chance to unhook journalism from profit imperatives, we can reclaim and reinvent a public good. By designing a system that actually serves democracy, we can finally create the media we need.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



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Regulators Put Brakes on Media Megadeals

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Some of the biggest surprises in media M&A this year came not from ambitious CEOs or activist investors but from the clinical precision of regulators focused on warding off too much market concentration.

Industry insiders, meanwhile, say judges and antitrust watchdogs are focused on the wrong mature businesses while online-based media continues to operate like the Wild West. The anti-Big Media mood on both sides of the partisan divide in Washington is likely to complicate the completion of the biggest media transaction of the year, Microsoft’s proposed all-cash $68 billion takeover of gaming giant Activision Blizzard.

“Under this administration, that deal has a 50-50 chance of going through,” says a veteran entertainment attorney who specializes in M&A and regulatory issues.

The simmering regulatory probe by the Justice Dept. and Federal Trade Commission of the Microsoft-Activision merger is being closely watched as a litmus test for future transactions.

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There’s been much talk over the past two years about the possible combination of more legacy Hollywood brand name studios, a la Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox. But the combination of a muddled macroeconomic environment, rising interest rates and falling stock prices has likely put a freeze on big-time buying and selling until the political winds shift in Washington. “Everything is on hold until after 2024,” the source says.

Nothing exemplifies the Biden administration’s classically liberal distaste for media consolidation like the Justice Dept.’s decision last year to sue to block Paramount Global’s $2.2 billion sale of publisher Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann, parent company of Penguin Random House. Circuit Court Judge Florence Y. Pan, of the District Court of Washington, D.C., issued an 80-page ruling with a clear-eyed analysis of the market dynamics in the book business. The case focused on the impact of how the marriage of the U.S.’ biggest book publisher (Penguin Random House) with the third-largest (Simon & Schuster) would impact the prices paid to authors for new manuscripts.

A week after Pan’s Nov. 14 decision, Paramount Global gave up the chase and pulled the deal, despite Penguin Random House’s vow to appeal.

Tegna, one of the largest independent TV station groups still around, has been through the ringer in recent years after a public battle with activist investor Soo Kim, head of private equity firm Standard General. But after Tegna management ultimately accepted an $8.6 billion buyout offer from Standard General and Apollo Global Management, the FCC has taken an extra-long look at the transaction. The reticence reflects growing unease in some circles about the influence of private equity and media ownership.

No less a legislative force than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in on the Tegna review with a letter sent to FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel raising apprehensions about the deal and its impact on local news and information in Tegna markets.

“We are concerned that this transaction would violate the FCC’s mandate by restricting access to local news coverage, cutting jobs at local television stations, and raising prices on consumers,” Pelosi wrote in the letter, co-authored with Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey), chairman of House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Books are the oldest of mass media. Broadcast TV stations are hitting their octogenarian years. But the regulatory focus on Simon & Schuster and Tegna reflects worries in the culture about the growing influence of screens and media in our lives, and who controls the levels of access and commerce behind them.

“There is now greater concern about who controls the media. It’s not just like any other industry,” says Erik Gordon, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “Most of us don’t know or care who controls this railroad company or this hamburger chain. But media of any sort — whether it’s TV stations or Twitter or Facebook — people are now paying attention to who controls it.”

Judge Pan likely sent a chill down the spines of bankers and M&A lawyers by highlighting the expansive terms of the Clayton Act, a 1914 antitrust law that was enacted amid fear that consumers needed protection from the natural urge to merge among large business entities.

Pan’s opinion posits that the sheer market share that the enlarged Penguin Random House would gain in the $12 billion domestic book market was enough for the government to block the deal. In essence, even without evidence of monopolistic intentions, the mere potential for an enlarged Penguin Random House to sway pay scales for writers was a danger to competitiveness.

“The substantial market share of the proposed combined entity justifies a strong presumption of anticompetitive effects,” Pan wrote. She also cited a key passage from the Clayton Act: “All that is necessary is that the merger create an appreciable danger of such consequences in the future.”

On some level, antitrust law is driven by math and how much market share a company is allowed to amass. The rise of prominent duopolies in the Big Tech arena — two companies that largely dominate a sector a la Google and Facebook (digital advertising), Uber and Lyft (ride-hailing) and Apple and Samsung (smartphones) — has upended traditional thinking on how healthy markets develop.

A lot of Silicon Valley-related activity has fallen under the cloak of giving companies some breathing room to invest billions in testing out new technologies. But that laissez-faire attitude is hardening, says Derek Kompare, who studies TV and media history and is chair of Southern Methodist University’s Division of Film and Media Arts. He was not surprised that the Justice Dept. moved to put the kibosh on Penguin Random House swallowing up Simon & Schuster.

“There’s still significant business and social impacts of ‘old’ media like publishing and broadcasting that attentive regulation assesses,” says Kompare, who studies TV and media history. Simon & Schuster “seems a pretty clear case where there was no upside for anyone outside the proposed giant,” he says. “Given the controversies around the latest big media mergers, as well as general disappointment with the direction of the tech industry, I imagine that the regulatory stance for allowing ‘disruption’ to develop digital markets might be fading, or at least growing more skeptical.”

Gordon predicts that with the level of turmoil, battered stock prices and balance sheets that Hollywood is enduring amid the industry’s transition from linear to streaming platforms, there will be more activist investors pushing Big Media to accelerate transformation in one direction or another.

Reports have emerged that Disney’s abrupt CEO shuffle on Nov. 20 from Bob Chapek back to Bob Iger came in part because the company was facing increasing pressure from large investors.

One reason why regulators focus on books and TV stations is that the markets are mature and operations are fairly similar across the largest publishers. That’s not true for TV, film and streaming entertainment companies. At a time when “everyone’s guessing” about where the profit-making potential is headed, Gordon says, there is sure to be more conflict in the air for CEOs — even one as well-regarded as Iger, who previously steered Disney as chief executive from 2005 to 2015.

“With this kind of uncertainly you’ve got a bunch of smart people seeing a very different future for the industry; we’re going to see more differences of opinion,” Gordon says.

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Healthcare Recruitment Mission to the Philippines a Success | News and Media – Government of Saskatchewan

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Released on December 7, 2022

128 conditional offers made by the Saskatchewan Health Authority to qualified Filipino Registered Nurses

Saskatchewan’s delegation to Manila led by Health Minister Paul Merriman has wrapped up its targeted health care recruitment mission and returned home with successful results, making conditional employment offers to 128 registered nurses and one continuing care aide.

“Saskatchewan has an innovative plan that demonstrates our serious commitment and sincere intent to the people of the Philippines,” Merriman said. “To achieve these outstanding results, we took bold steps by going to the Philippines to engage in-person with more than twelve hundred interested and available healthcare workers. Filipino people travelled from every corner of their country to attend our information sessions.”

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A primary focus of the mission was in-person interviews conducted on-site by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) while in the country. Many registered nurses had undergone a pre-screening process and secured an interview in advance of the delegation’s arrival. A high number of qualified and experienced individuals who attended the general information sessions were also identified as strong candidates.

“By the end of the week, the SHA extended 128 conditional offers to qualified and enthusiastic members of our future Registered Nurse workforce, many with relatives and friends who already belong to Saskatchewan’s growing Filipino community. Dozens more interviews are scheduled in the days and weeks ahead” Merriman said.

Saskatchewan delegates also promoted provincial health care employment opportunities over a five-day period in Manila by hosting 10 workshops and information sessions attended by over 1,200 interested Filipino healthcare workers. These sessions assisted with the licensing and regulatory process, immigration process, and relocation supports. Newly created Saskatchewan health system navigators will continue to assist Filipino health care candidates and provide follow-up information to the more than 1,000 prospective candidates identified by the mission.

Minister Merriman’s delegation participated in a series of bilateral meetings, representing the province in talks with Philippine government departments including Secretary Maria Susana V. Ople from the newly formed Department of Migrant Workers.

“It was an honour to meet with Secretary Ople, a highly-respected advocate for Filipino workers, to discuss the supports our province has in place for new recruits so they make a successful transition into our workforce along with assistance and support for families settling into our communities,” Merriman said. “We are committed to following ethical principles in the recruitment efforts, while creating the positive working environments and conditions that make Saskatchewan a top destination of choice for employment candidates.”

Minister Merriman and Saskatchewan’s post-secondary representatives also met with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and the Commission on Higher Education to discuss how to create more streamlined and efficient training pathways between Saskatchewan’s institutions and the Philippines.

Minister Merriman joined Saskatchewan Polytechnic to celebrate the opening of its Manila-based office and participated in Memorandum of Understanding signings and partnership agreements with nine Philippine State Universities.

“It was a privilege to meet many future health care workforce members, from registered nurses to medical lab technicians to continuing care aides and their families, who are excited to come to Saskatchewan and enhance our workforce,” Merriman added.

This recruitment mission is a part of the government’s four-point plan to recruit, train, incentivize and retain healthcare workers to stabilize and strengthen Saskatchewan’s health care work force.

Details on other health care opportunities, how to access them and more information on province’s Health Human Resources Action Plan are available at: saskatchewan.ca/HHR.

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For more information, contact:

Media Relations
Saskatchewan Health
Regina
Phone: 306-787-4083
Email: media@health.gov.sk.ca

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Social Media Seen as Mostly Good for Democracy Across Many Nations, But U.S. is a Major Outlier – Pew Research Center

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Most think social media has made it easier to manipulate and divide people, but also say it informs and raises awareness

A photo of people using cellphones. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

How we did this

This Pew Research Center analysis focuses on technology use and views of internet and social media in the context of democracy and society. The survey was conducted in 19 advanced economies in North America, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.

For non-U.S. data, this report draws on nationally representative surveys of 20,944 adults from Feb. 14 to June 3, 2022. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. Surveys were conducted face to face in Hungary, Poland and Israel. In Australia, we used a probability-based online panel.

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In the United States, we surveyed 3,581 U.S. adults from March 21 to 27, 2022. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Technology use can be related to the way the survey is conducted. For example, our surveys in Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea are designed to only call mobile phone numbers and interview people on mobile phones because the prevalence of mobile phone ownership is so high. For instance, a 2021 study by the Korea Information Society Development Institute found that 97% of all people in Korea, not just adults, own a mobile phone.

In addition, people who take our survey over the phone may be more likely to use technology compared with those who take the survey in person. In 2019, we conducted simultaneous telephone and in-person surveys in Italy. Both samples were representative of the Italian population with respect to age, gender, education, and region. Respondents who took part in the telephone survey had somewhat higher rates of internet use, smartphone ownership and social media use. We moved from in-person interviews to telephone interviews in Italy in 2020 and Greece in 2021, and do not make direct comparisons to technology use prior to the mode change.

For purposes of comparison, data from Australia is not included in analyses of internet use or phone ownership. Internet use, smartphone and mobile phone ownership, and social media use data in the U.S. comes from a phone survey conducted Jan. 25 to Feb. 8, 2021.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and the survey methodology.

As people across the globe have increasingly turned to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other platforms to get their news and express their opinions, the sphere of social media has become a new public space for discussing – and often arguing bitterly – about political and social issues. And in the mind of many analysts, social media is one of the major reasons for the declining health of democracy in nations around the world.

Bar chart showing most say that social media has been good for democracy but has had important negative and positive effects on politics and society

However, as a new Pew Research Center survey of 19 advanced economies shows, ordinary citizens see social media as both a constructive and destructive component of political life, and overall most believe it has actually had a positive impact on democracy. Across the countries polled, a median of 57% say social media has been more of a good thing for their democracy, with 35% saying it is has been a bad thing.

There are substantial cross-national differences on this question, however, and the United States is a clear outlier: Just 34% of U.S. adults think social media has been good for democracy, while 64% say it has had a bad impact. In fact, the U.S. is an outlier on a number of measures, with larger shares of Americans seeing social media as divisive.

Dot plot showing more Americans see negative political impact of the internet and social media, compared with other countries surveyed

Even in countries where assessments of social media’s impact are largely positive, most believe it has had some pernicious effects – in particular, it has led to manipulation and division within societies. A median of 84% across the 19 countries surveyed believe access to the internet and social media have made people easier to manipulate with false information and rumors. A recent analysis of the same survey shows that a median of 70% across the 19 nations consider the spread of false information online to be a major threat, second only to climate change on a list of global threats.

Additionally, a median of 65% think it has made people more divided in their political opinions. More than four-in-ten say it has made people less civil in how they talk about politics (only about a quarter say it has made people more civil).

So given the online world’s manipulation, divisiveness and lack of civility, what’s to like? How can this acrimonious sea of false information be good for democracy? Part of the answer may be that it gives people a sense of empowerment at a time when few feel empowered. Majorities in nearly every country surveyed say their political system does not allow people like them to have an influence in politics. In nine nations, including the U.S., seven-in-ten or more express that view.

Online platforms may help people feel less powerless in a few ways. First, social media informs them. As a recent Pew Research Center report highlighted, majorities in these countries believe that staying informed about domestic and international events is part of being a good citizen, and it is clear that people believe the internet and social media make it easier to stay informed. Nearly three-quarters say the internet and social media have made people more informed about current events in their own country as well as in other countries. Young adults are especially likely to hold these views. 

Bar chart showing social media generally seen as effective at influencing politics and policy

Also, most of those surveyed see social media as an effective tool for accomplishing political goals. Majorities in most countries say it is at least somewhat effective at raising public awareness, changing people’s minds about issues, getting elected officials to pay attention to issues and influencing policy decisions.

For some, social media is also an outlet for expression. In South Korea, for example, roughly half of social media users say they sometimes or often post or share things online about political or social issues. However, in the other countries polled, posting about these issues is less common, and in 12 nations four-in-ten or more say they never post about political or social topics. These are among the major findings of a Pew Research Center survey, conducted from Feb. 14 to June 3, 2022, among 24,525 adults in 19 nations.  

Americans most likely to say social media has been bad for democracy

Bar chart showing social media generally seen as good thing for democracy – but not in U.S.

Majorities in most of the nations surveyed believe social media has been a good thing for democracy in their country. Assessments are especially positive in Singapore, Malaysia, Poland, Sweden, Hungary and Israel, where 65% or more hold this view (for data on how international research organizations assess the quality of democracy in the countries surveyed, see Appendix A).

In contrast, Americans are the most negative about the impact of social media on democracy: 64% say it has been bad. Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party (74%) are much more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners (57%) to see the ill effects of social media on the political system.

Half or more also say social media has been bad for democracy in the Netherlands, France and Australia.

In addition to being the most negative about social media’s influence on democracy, Americans are consistently among the most negative in their assessments of specific ways social media has affected politics and society. For example, 79% in the U.S. believe access to the internet and social media has made people more divided in their political opinions, the highest percentage among the 19 countries polled.

Similarly, 69% of Americans say the internet and social media have made people less civil in how they talk about politics – again the highest share among the nations in the study.

Bar chart showing Americans see more negative effects of internet and social media on society

To compare how publics evaluate the impact of the internet and social media on society, we created an index that combines responses to six questions regarding whether the internet makes people: 1) less informed about current events in their country, 2) more divided in their political opinions, 3) less accepting of people from different backgrounds, 4) easier to manipulate with false information and rumors, 5) less informed about current events in other countries, and 6) less civil in the way they talk about politics.

The negative positions on all of these questions were coded as 1 while positive or “no impact” responses were coded as 0. For each respondent, scores on the overall index can range from 0, indicating they see no negative effects of the internet and social media across these questions, to 6, meaning a negative answer to all six questions. See Appendix B for more information about how the index was created.

Looking at the data this way illustrates the degree to which Americans stand out for their negative take on social media’s impact. The average score among U.S. respondents is 3.05, the highest – and therefore the most negative – in the survey. Dutch, Hungarian and Australian respondents are also more negative than others. In contrast, Malaysians, Israelis, Poles and Singaporeans offer less negative assessments. 

Pew Research Center’s research on the internet, social media and technology in the U.S. and around the world

Many of the topics explored in this report have been studied in depth in the U.S. by Pew Research Center’s internet and technology team, which for more than two decades has conducted survey research on the social impact of digital technologies, such as internet and broadbandmobile connectivity and social media. The team’s work has included topics such as privacy and surveillanceactivism and civic engagementdigital dividesthe role of technology in people’s lives and broader societyteens’ and younger children’s use of technology and online dating. In addition, this research has examined the emergence of facial recognition, smart speakers, the gig/sharing economy, people’s attitudes about automation and algorithms and the use of wearable technology. The research has also regularly explored the future of digital life on such issues as the future of work and the rise of artificial intelligence.

The Center has also continually studied technology usage and views about the impact of digital technologies around the world as part of its Global Attitudes research, including reports on topics such as social media usage, smartphone ownership and public opinion in Africa regarding the impact of the internet on society. 

In 2018, the Center conducted an in-depth survey in 11 emerging economies, examining views about mobile technology and social media, as well as attitudes toward diversity in these nations. The Center also conducted focus groups in five countries as part of this study. In many ways, the results of the 2018 study were similar to those in the current survey, in that people in emerging and advanced economies alike believe social media presents both opportunities and dangers. For a comparison of results from the two studies, see “In advanced and emerging economies, similar views on how social media affects democracy and society.”

For the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for conducting surveys in nations where the Center typically interviews respondents in person, rather than via phone or online approaches. Moving forward, we will return to in-person interviewing in countries around the world, which will allow us to explore the impact of technology and other issues in regions that are underrepresented or not represented in this report.

The rapid growth of social media

Bar chart showing large increase in social media use in Japan, France, Poland, the U.S., Spain, the UK and Germany compared with a decade ago
Line charts showing social media use in Japan, France, Poland, the U.S., Spain, the UK, and Germany has grown sharply among older adults in the last decade

Pew Research Center has been asking about social media usage for the past decade, and trend data from several nations polled over that time period highlights the extent to which these platforms have become pervasive in recent years. Growth has been especially dramatic in Japan, where just 30% used social media in 2012, compared with 75% today. Social media has also increased markedly in France, Poland, Spain, the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Even in Germany, which lags significantly behind these other nations in social media usage, there has been a notable increase since 2012. 

In every nation surveyed, young people are more likely than others to use social media. However, the age gap has closed over the past decade. When looking again at data from seven nations polled in both 2012 and 2022, growth in usage has been especially steep among 30- to 49-year-olds and those ages 50 and older. For example, nearly all British 18- to 29-year-olds were already social media users in 2012, but there has been significant growth among the two older age groups during the past 10 years.

Young people more likely to see benefits of social media

Overall, young adults are more likely than older adults to use the internet, own a smartphone and use social media. For more information on age differences in technology use, as well as differences by education and income, see the detailed tables accompanying this report.

Dot plot showing young adults see social media’s impact on democracy more positively than older adults in most countries

In addition to using social media more than their older counterparts, young adults often stand out in their views about the impact of social media.

Adults ages 18 to 29 are more likely than those 50 and older to say social media has been good for democracy in 12 out of 19 nations surveyed. For instance, while 87% of 18- to 29-year-old Poles believe social media has had a positive effect on politics, just 46% of those 50 and older agree.

Young adults are also often more likely to say the internet and social media has made people more informed about domestic and international events, and they are especially likely to say these technologies have made people more accepting of others from different backgrounds.

In many cases, young people are also especially likely to consider social media an effective tool in the political realm, particularly regarding its capacity to change people’s minds on social issues and to raise awareness of those issues.

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