According to a new documentary (The Social Dilemma), social media is destroying the country. I don’t know about that but I do know social media has consequences for our mission.

On the one hand, the internet has made it easier than ever to access primary sources of information. Eg, if you want to know how much California spends per K-12 pupil, the answer is on page 69 of the Governor’s Budget. 15 years ago, even from my position inside the Governor’s Office, I couldn’t get that information with the ease with which anyone can get it now. To me, that access is a great thing. But on the other hand, primary sources aren’t always truthful. In 1964, the Johnson Administration falsely claimed American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin were fired upon by North Vietnamese ships. The New York Times and other newspapers bought the lie, as did the country’s three television networks. Because there was no other media, citizens had nowhere else to turn for information. If the same thing happened today, presumably social media would inject uncertainty into the matter. To me, that’s also a great thing. But social media also slots users into silos, which is not healthy for the compromise necessary for democracies to function, and makes it easier for deceptive politicians to tweet virtue while doing the bidding of special interests. That makes our mission all the more important.

Because social media makes it easier for legislators to deceive siloed constituents with their words, supporters of the general interest must be more vigilant than ever about legislator actions. That takes money, though less than most people think. As special interests have proved, a small number of people persistently donating not unreasonable amounts of money can have enormous influence in Sacramento. If you haven’t already donated to our mission this year, you may do so here.

Written by

Lecturer at Stanford University and president of Govern For California

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