Since 2005, the reputable Pew Research Center has examined the expansion and effect of social media. The Center notes that in 2018 about 70% of American adults used some kind of social media platforms, dominated by the twin giants of Facebook and Twitter.

Over the past decade, social media postings bear the imprint of a polarization of political discourse. Social networks have been a boon to partisans of every stripe — conservatives, especially. Conservatives and liberals frequently take to social media to attack each other.

People around the world use social media. It plays an important role in social, civic and political interactions. Launching protests, sharing health and scientific information, performing job-related tasks, connecting with family and friends and getting news represent some of the ways that people use and depend on it.

Throughout the history of the tech industry in the United States, government has been an important regulator, funder and partner. Today, Silicon Valley has become the technological and entrepreneurial juggernaut of power and innovation.

But the widespread use of social media also presents us with complex and conflicting pressures. Rising user concerns have arisen about privacy, security and the protection of personal information. Polls show that people have little trust in social media firms’ capacity or willingness to protect their data from the grasping tentacles of businesses and advertisers.

Besides, social media sites are often cited as places where people are harassed. Specific complaints include racial and immigrant slurs, a large amount of misinformation and lies, and an abundance of vile language.

The internet, sadly, has also been a playground for illegal criminal activities like recruitment for terrorist groups, hacking into personal bank accounts, identity theft and online scams. Some websites feature pornographic and violent content that can have a harmful impact, especially on children.

On the other hand, the World Wide Web offers freedom of expression. It provides people with access to abundant levels of information. It connects people and places around the globe.

Government agencies must balance the opportunities and challenges of social media. This means navigating the complex process of formulating social media policy development.

At its best, social media provides for self-expression and promotes mutual understanding. It enables rapid formation of networks and demonstrates our common humanity across cultural differences. It connects people, their ideas and values like never before.

Social media has become a crucial part of how we interact with our friends, community and even operate our cities. Social media platforms, particularly Twitter, have become a type of soapbox in America where politicians speak directly to their constituents.

Social media in government is commonplace today. The web is a good way to share information and keep up with trending news. It can also be a very powerful way for public and private organizations to interact with folks.

Yet, too often social media resembles a list of post-it notes, not a conversation about the social and economic issues that divide us. Conservatives and liberals attract different groups of people. Conservatives get backing predominantly from middle-aged or older native-born white males. Women, people of color and the young tend to fill the ranks of liberals.

The World Wide Web is a combination of opportunities and challenges. While we embrace social media, we must find a way to regulate its ugly and harmful characteristics as well. The key is striking a reasonable, justified and workable balance.

Scharnau is retired from a history teaching career of some 50 years. His email address is LiberalRalph@gmail.com.

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