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Man being a social being finds it a necessity to belong or be in a group or engage in a collective action. This behavior has given rise to many theories that to explain why people form groups or participate in them. This collective behavior has been around for many centuries and has resulted in the formation of different social structures (Anderson, p2). Examples of collective behaviour over the years include the revolutions of the 17th century like the French revolution, civil rights movements of the seventies, and the north Africa liberation of 2011 (Anderson, p4). Today due to technology, communication has become easy and accessible to many making distance irrelevant and has brought about repercussions that have affected society both negatively and positively.
Social media is a communication tool that has been enabled by the internet and includes platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and many others. Social media is easy to access and has massive numbers that makes it a preferred tool to use to mobilize people or spread a message. For example, Facebook had about 800 million uses in October 2011 (Facebook, 2011). We have seen the power of social media in bringing about huge changes in society. For example, social media was used during the North Africa revolution of 2011 to bring about change in governments and with great success like in Egypt and Tunisia (Anderson, p5). Protesters in these countries used social media to air their grievances and bring them to the limelight through tweets, videos and the like where the whole world was able to see and hear the raw facts without them being edited as is usually the case (Anderson, p6).
However, some effects of social media are causing concern in society today. For example, today almost everyone including school children have a Facebook account. The time spent on responding to friends and “liking” stuff has meant a decrease in time spent for physically meeting which has affected the traditional societies like family where family time has decreased or socializing activities like coffee and lunch dates or afternoon leisure time at the mall with friends or going to the movies (Jones, p131).
People can communicate without physically meeting or even watch videos online so do not have to go to the movies. The emotional support they used to get from physically meeting is now channeled to online friends hence those who physically live together are no longer together for emotional support but for convenience sake. Relationships are formed as a result of time spent together and emotional support thus these relationships have become strained and of little value. Spouses are no longer best of friends and children do not look up-to parents to get advice so relationships are now strained due to social media (Jones, p133).
Social media has changed social structures the way we have known them. For example, digital natives and late adopters respond to social media differently Buechler, p452). There are those who grew up using these internet tools and have developed a different culture e.g. see social media as the main mode of communication, blindly copy behavior based on whats trending in huge contrast to the late adopters who use social media as a last resort. This has resulted in virtual exclusion which strains relationships between these too age groups.
For example, we have seen social embarrassing things happening on social media where the personnel of firms fail to be discreet or professional in their encounters online leading to the firm having to apologize for lack of discreetness or professionalism of their staff. For example, two fast food firms where at logger heads recently when one called their staff obese and that is why they don’t deliver their food on time. This brought a public outcry and the firm was forced to release a press statement apologizing on behalf of that staff for the lack of discreetness. The young generation does not know which is proper behavior and which is not.
Some people are becoming addicted to these social media tools and this is having a detrimental effect especially on their mental health. It has resulted in schizophrenic behavior, conflict with elders or peers due to different behavior which is seen as rebellious and withdrawal symptoms and cravings when they are denied access to the internet. For example the way people behave online is different from when they meet face to face. You find young people with two personalities i.e. an online personality and a real life personality.
This has resulted in confusion and relationships suffer because one may have met an online version of a person but does not like the offline or real version. It has led to a society of very low values and not knowing how to handle emotions hence increased suicides and erratic behaviors and low tolerance levels. Young people want reality to run at the speed of the internet i.e. instant success and results.
According to social network theory, a movement is made up of nodes i.e. the individuals and ties i.e. the relationships between individuals (Buechler, p441). It is relationships that connect individuals. The degree of the ties can either cause long lasting relationships or break-down of relationships altogether. For example, group outcome can be predicted thus if one wanted a negative outcome between two groups, they can create this situation. Social media can be used to create this drift in relationships intentionally or unintentionally. It has been used to disrupt the functioning of illegal groups like terrorist movements or business cartels (Buechler, p442).
According to the new social movements theory, these new movements focus on social change like lifestyle or culture (Jones, p135). Examples include green movements, women rights movements, gay movements and the like. Social media is a key tool to such moments as these movements normally comprise of a few people and do not have mass reception like the older movements like the revolutions. Thus social media is a good platform as its normally has flexible rules and is un-regulated or un-restricted like the situation on the ground thus is easy to bring about a new revolution. Thus social media does create a drift in relationships as it facilitates those misfits who cannot find voice in the normal world (Buechler, p444 ).
Also if we base social movements occurring based on the on social exchange theory, where cost benefit analysis is used as a criteria. This theory argues that behavior is influenced by what one will gain in the relationship (Anderson, p3). For example, a person marries another because they gain companionship. Thus people form relationships only because they will benefit and not for the sake of it. This situation can lead to exploitation of a weaker group by a stronger group and thus lead to drift in relationships. For example, in social media, when conmen fleece people in a willing buyer or willing seller situation.
The social identity theory shows how the perceived identity of the group influences their behavior. Social media is a tool that is used to create groups of people who share similar views or behaviors, and it is believed that groups formed on identity grounds usually bring about discrimination or bias (Buechler, p446 ). This causes stigmatization and other social ills like segregation which causes a drift in relationships.
Social capital theory explains that social groups or networks bring about social wealth. For example, organizations like hospice, the red cross and red crescent movements were formed to make a better world (Jones, p135). However, social media has been accused of watering the social wealth concept in that it is preventing traditional communities from thriving and eroding on culture and traditions that used to hold people together. For example, the increased number of young people bringing guns to school and using them to kill people is believed to be a result of lack of relationships or socializing of many young people who just sit in front of computers and talk to no-one.
In conclusion, any form of gathering influences the behavior of the actors or participants and this behavior can be positive or negative. It is thus the responsibility of members to ensure that whatever associations they form or engage in, they use them to bring out the best in themselves and for the betterment of society.
Anderson, L. 2011. Demystifying the Arab Spring: Parsing the Differences Between Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Foreign Affairs [PDF]. 90 (3) pp. 2-7.
Caren, N. Gaby, S. 2011. Occupy Online: Facebook and the Spread of Occupy Wall Street. Univ. of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Jones, J., 2011. Social Media and Social Movements. International Socialism: A quarterly journal of socialist theory [online]. (130) 4 April.
Buechler, Steven M. New Social Movement Theories, Sociological Quarterly Volume 36 Issue 3, Pages 441 - 464, 1995
Democracy means the government by the people. This means that all the people should be able to have their say in one way or another in everything that often affects their lives. The word democracy is derived from the Greek word demos-kratos that means power to the people. Therefore, power to the people often means that the people are the ones that decide the institutions as well as laws that will govern them as well as their land. However, it is of the essence to understand that ‘the people’ are not of one mind (Dennis, 1995).
They are different and diverse people, there are those that want to get the better of others, there are those that want to increase their own wealth and they are those that would love to impose their will on others. Therefore, the people, are not of one mind, even when they might appear to be of one mind, in reality in many case they are not. Laws therefore exist in a democracy to ensure that there is the unity of the people, that the people understand the limits of exploiting each other. A democracy does not only involve elections every few years; it is more than, it takes voting, freedom, inclusion, finance and information.
Democracy requires voting, every person should be able to vote regardless of their gender, sexuality or political belief. The voting should be done for the people to be represented in a government by persons that they believe will project their demands and wants. In order, for the democracy to be meaningful, the voter should have freedom and they should not be intimidated. They should have the freedom to talk, to vote and even have the freedom to demonstrate against what they believe is wrong. It is of the essence to also note that for the voting to be meaningful, there must be a real choice for the voter.
Excluding parties or people from standing as candidates in most cases often lessens voter choice. There is a need to include the people so that the government is truly a democracy (Dennis, 1995). The financing in a democracy can be an issue, there is a need to control this in order to create a true democracy. Finally, there is a need for the right of information. People need information in order to vote effectively. This is where the media comes in, and there is a need for more source of news and information in order to be able to make informed choices.
There is no democracy that can exist without a free press. This is a precept that has been able to be ingrained in democratic theory as well as practice. The press has been seen as being an co-equal branch of government that often provides check and balance without which no government can be effective. Since the early 17th century, the role of the Press being the Fourth Estate as well as being a forum for public discussion and debate has often been recognized. Today, despite the media’s propensity for sensationalism and superficiality, the idea of the media being a watchdog still remains strong (Touraine & Macey, 2008).
It has been known to protect and be a guardian of public interest, a conduit that exists between the governors and the governed. In many fledgling democracies, the media can be said to have been able to assert its role when it comes to buttressing as well as deepening democracy. It is of the essence to understand that investigative reporting has at times led to the ousting of presidents as well as the falling of corrupt governments (Touraine & Macey, 2008). The media therefore, has played a role in ensuring that it remains a credible watchdog and it boosts its credibility among the public.
Democracy often requires active participation of citizens, Ideally, the media should often be kept engaged in the business of governance by educating, informing as well as being able to mobilize the public. The media is able to air out grass root issues relating to democracy and it often reflects ethnic and linguistic diversity (Gunther, 2000).
It is of the essence to understand that the media can be able to help build peace as well as social consensus which is a fundamental fabric in democracy. This is because the media can be able to provide warring groups mechanism for mediation and give them a voice that can be used to settle their differences in a peaceful manner. However, there are times that the media has unfortunately fanned the flames by taking sides (Jenkins¸ 2004). Most of this times, it reinforces prejudices, and muddle facts by peddling half-truths.
The media can only be able to play a positive role in democracy if there is a creation of an enabling environment that allows them to do so. There is a need for what can only be described as requisite skills in order to enable in-depth reporting that can ensure that a democracy continues. There is also a need for mechanism to be in place to ensure that the media is also held accountable to the public and that there is the existence of both public and ethical professional’s standards for the journalists.
The media however, has several constraints. This is because the media in democracies are not always sometimes up to the task (Dahl¸2000). However, despite the constitutional guarantees that has come in the 21st century, the media in several democracies has been hobbled by stringent laws and monopolistic ownership. The current imprisonment of Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt is a testament that the media has not yet reach its optimum level in the development of democracies.
Further, the competition of the market means that the media in democracies has succumbed to what can be described as the global trend of dumbing down the news. This is more in television, where reports on crime and entertainment often drown out the important news of the day. There is a stress on glitzy effects and only bite-size news reports on fundamental issues that include in-depth discussion of issues that matter (Jenkins¸ 2004). The result of this is that there is public discourse that is dumbed down. The officials and citizens respond to this news that they get instead of key issues.
Further, one should not ignore the fact that in many newsrooms including those that exist in affluent countries, tight budgets di not often allow for the adequate investment that is required for solid journalism. The media managers would rather put their money on effects, technology as compared to reportage (Dahl¸2000). In addition, it is also of importance to understand that journalists often do not have the experience as well as requisite training that is needed for the kind of contextualized reporting that a democracy needs. However, even if they did, the political and pecuniary interests of the media owners often limit of the freedom of journalists to conduct exposes.
In conclusion, democracy can be defined as the government by the people. It goes more than elections after several years. It involves the representation of people in the government and the ability of people to vote, and freedom of them to express their opinions. Democracy gives power to the people as they are able to create institutions and laws that are used to govern them and their land. Volumes has been written in regards to the role of mass media when it comes to a democracy, most of the literature has indicated that a free press can be described as the best communication solution in a democracy (Dahl¸2000).
A self-governing society should be able to make its own decision, and it cannot do that without hard information that comes from the media. However, there are times where there are hard questions that journalists ask themselves. Does the truth always serve the right purpose in a democracy and can it do more harm than good? The journalistic purists might argue that it is not their job to play God in such matters and that they should not shoot the messenger for the message (Jenkins¸ 2004). However, if a truthful report of a small and minute communal conflict in Africa can lead to a large civil unrest, should it be published? These are some of the questions that the media has to ask itself when it tries to be responsible and act as the fourth estate in a democracy.
Dahl, R. A. (2000). On democracy. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Jenkins, H. (2004). Democracy and new media. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: MIT Press.
Touraine, A., & Macey, D. (2008). What is democracy?.
Gunther, R., & Mughan, A. (2000). Democracy and the media: A comparative perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dennis, E. E., Snyder, R. W., & Freedom Forum Media Studies Center. (1995). Media and democracy. New York: Freedom Forum Media Studies Center.
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