By Guillermo Mejía
The discussion of the problems that afflict society with the broad participation of the various sectors, it cannot continue to be supplanted by the illusion that it is through social networks that the conversation begins, between rulers and ruled, with the consent of the social media.
The premise is based on the fact that, although defective, this society develops within a model of liberal or bourgeois democracy, where it is estimated -in theory- that the ideal instrument is social dialogue, that allows the meeting between elites and citizens, at the same time that there is a press corps that contributes with its mediation role.
Recently, Argentine professor José Luis Orihuela said that “the political network par excellence should be the parliament, not a private technology platform in San Francisco ”and lamented that“ politicians and journalists have turned Twitter into an out-of-control monster that threatens the quality of democratic life and privatizes spaces for conversation that should remain public ”.
Orihuela, from the University of Navarra, offered the statements to the Spanish website Beers&politics, to which he warned that “Twitter is a complex mechanism of influence that works from power, from the opposition, from the media and from the grassroots, but its operation as a network ends up constituting a bypass of the institutional mechanisms of influence established by democracies ".
According to him, It must be remembered that the crisis of confidence that surrounds the political class and government levels “is not generated by social networks but by corruption, short-termism, partisanship and the manifest ineffectiveness of the parties and the government in solving the real problems of citizens ". Yes, "The networks function as a loudspeaker for popular discontent and as a transmission belt for the slogans of the parties and the government to solve the real problems of citizens".
For Orihuela, the problem is that “when power does not allow questions in press conferences or only uses the networks to make propaganda or to resolve tactical disputes with its opponents, then essential debates are being withdrawn from the citizenry. Not strange, so, the reputational crisis of politics, but it is a problem that does not have technological solutions ".
"Now what it is about is not to demonize technology or to pretend an impossible regression to previous stages, but to establish compensation mechanisms so that speed does not alter the quality of decision-making processes at all levels of our life, also in the political and journalistic sphere ", he warned.
"We cannot continue to function through instant messages or tweets, no matter how viral they are or are manufactured ", he added.
The reflections of the communications professor fall like a glove in societies like ours where the "most advanced" in the exercise of power - according to the illusion of the moment- is to emerge as a connoisseur and practitioner of social networks, but without establishing a direct relationship with citizens or journalists. The cloak of opacity and, thus, the absence of transparency.
In the case of Spain, according to Orihuela, political parties are using social media to exchange slogans. "They are not talking to each other, nor with journalists, nor with the citizens. There is terror to the conversation because there is very little own thought and too much tactical argumentation ".
The solution: "In any case, Parliament must be recovered as a space for public debate, as well as press conferences and television debates before journalists ", affirmed the Argentine teacher.
However, the other important part that cannot be neglected is the role that social media should play, especially when talking about worrying signs of authoritarianism in the exercise of power, to which is added the lack of accountability, transparency and access to public information.
In that frame, Marty baron, ex director de The Washington Post, he told the newspaper La Nación, from Buenos Aires, that “journalism has a fundamental role in democracy. Because, no matter the pressures we face, regardless of how the business changes, we must remain faithful to the fundamental values of our profession ".
“And at the heart of that is holding powerful institutions and powerful individuals accountable.. That is the most important role of a free press.. That is the highest duty of those of us who work in this profession ", he added.
But nevertheless, recognized that there is a challenge in reaching complex audiences. "…Unfortunately, many people do not seek to be informed; seeks to be affirmed ”.
“Many want media outlets that affirm their pre-existing point of view. They want the media to tell them that what they already think is exactly correct. That is different from being informed, to learn things you did not know, or for the press to tell you that what you thought was true might not be true or change your way of thinking about things ", Baron said.
"The information will make you think more deeply. But for that we need a society that wants to be informed, not one that wants to be affirmed. And we need a profession that believes that its mission is to inform people, not affirm them. Unfortunately, in the current system, there is a market for media that see an opportunity to make money by asserting the pre-existing views of people on the right and left ”, he claimed.
And sentenced: "And some of the things they're claiming are wild conspiracy theories, strange and baseless. That is a real problem. But not only the press should deal with it. It is the burden of society in general ".
To the question of whether the press should assume a role to reduce polarization, the former editor of The Washington Post said yes. “We must make sure that we are not part of the polarization, that we do not accentuate that polarization ".
"Our job is to know the facts, Regardless of who it helps and who it hurts. It can help one of the parties. Can hurt another party. But it doesn't really matter. Because our job is not to promote an ideology, at least here in The Washington Post ", he pointed.
"Our job is to determine what the facts are, put them in the right context and write them in a way that engages the audience, without worrying about whether it helps one political party or another, if it helps one ideology or another. Our central principle is to tell the truth to the extent that the truth can be determined. It's inscribed on the wall, when we enter our newsroom. And that is what we must do and we try to do ", stated Baron.
The challenges belong to everyone. Those who wield power, journalists, publishers and owners of social media, as well as audiences that are also complex. Definitely, it takes a lot of commitment and, Of course, that an education be made viable, especially in political and media aspects in order to have a critical citizenry that really does its part.