U-M experts tackle interaction of social media, democracy


Social media can be harmful to a functioning democracy, but it has the potential to be helpful — and where it lands has less to do with the technology than how it’s used, according to three University of Michigan business experts.

As the midterm election draws near, Stephen M. Ross School of Business faculty members Ethan Kross, Marcus Collins and Mohamed Mostagir discussed why social media is such a powerful force in society, how social platforms can spread misinformation, how social media companies could act more responsibly and ultimately how the industry affects our democracy.

Kross, professor of management and organizations, said learning how to navigate in the online world is key, just as in the physical world.

“I’m a parent. The first thing I do with my kids is teach them how to navigate spaces, how to talk to people, where to go, what to say, when to do this versus that,” he said.

“We haven’t had that kind of collective knowledge for navigating social media. I think we’re developing it. But we need to be mindful of the fact that there is the potential dark side, and I think we need to do everything we can to stay away from that.”

Collins, clinical assistant professor of business, argued that social media simply magnifies tendencies that have always been present in human interaction, such as seeking out “echo chambers” of like-minded people.

“We have to decide, do we let these things live so that the greater population can convey the way it needs to be? Do you rely on the human conditioning for good to outweigh the bad?” he said.

“We’re watching that in prime time right now here in the United States. The social networking platforms may exacerbate the behaviors, but the behaviors are what we’ve always been as humans.”

Mostagir, associate professor of technology and operations, added that social media is, in itself, neither good nor bad.

“It’s how we use it, really,” he said. “But this is sort of new to all of us, right? There is no commonly developed etiquette for how you deal with these social media spaces.”

Kross, Collins and Mostagir spoke on an election-themed episode of the new podcast, Business and Society with Michigan Ross. The podcast aims to explore the ways the business world interacts with our broader society through discussions with Ross experts on current affairs as well as interviews with professors about their latest research.


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