This is a very important question, especially given the concerns about "fake news" that began to whirl around us in 2016. Even if the web is claimed to have its origins in sharing "dry" information, it has become apparent that the role information has in a media ecosystem that is now so dominated by content, much of it user-generated, that is not information centric needs to be addressed urgently. Indeed, the fact that factual news content are consumed or accessed via an architecture that is designed to arouse, and profit from, our emotional responses to digital media is a real problem. A lot of people dont realise how much traffic Facebook refers to the rest of the internet, but its pretty staggering25% of all web traffic comes by Facebook alone, and 32% from Social media as a whole. This incompatibility between a emotion-harvesting marketing tool and the measured accuracy that journalism claims to provide is also a reminder that whatever Facebook says about wanting to solve the problem of "fake news," they never will, because that would mean drastic sacrifices within their business modela business model which just earned them $17 million for the last quarter of 2018.
Under certain circumstances Social Networks can have positive effects: They help keeping in track with family, friends from far away, show news etc. Be it how it is: people use them for a variety of reasons. What do you recommend for using Social Media?
Academics, analysts, and writers can do much better than divide the world up into "good" and "bad". Junk food tastes good, and smoking (apparently) feels good. If there was nothing useful or stimulating about social media platforms, nobody would use them. As above, the issue is not whether there are or are not practical benefits, but the fact that as social media platforms worm their way into our lives, they become the portal via which we access our world. My recommendations would be that if you must use social media, stick to the media-related practical benefits it provides, but do not let it mediate any aspect of your personal life. I have permanently left Facebook and strongly urge others to do the same, but I still use Twitter to follow the news and gather information about the world.
Also, as the Arab spring has shown, Social Media can support political activism. Nowadays, however, the focus is mainly on how Facebook facilitated the victory of Trump or the outcome of the Brexit referendum. How do you explain this shift?
Any serious scholar of Egyptian or Tunisian politics will not accept that social media were a cause of the Arab Spring, if askedthis is largely a technocentric, liberal fantasy that ignores the tight organisation, terrifying risks and sheer graft involved in challenging a brutal sovereign government. What experts on this question do accept is that social media were able to act as an accelerant in these upheavals and provide an important morale boost. Exactly how much depends on whom you ask, but as Evgeny Morozov pointed out in 2011, overstating the efficacy of social media in events like these likely undermines their ability to contribute to democracy in this way.
Im not sure I agree with the questions assertion that the focus has shifted much. Whether the Arab Spring, Trumps election, mental health crises or other major global events, I think there will always be people who, whatever happens in the world, overplay the significance of technology, as though it somehow has agency of its own, whilst ignoring the more complicated structural, political, economic and social drivers of change. This is particularly the case in a world where "ideological" has become a dirty word.