Expert weighs in on social media influence on U.S. Capitol riots

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In the days since rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol the country has been asking itself, did social media help enable an attack on Congress?

President Donald Trump has been banned from several digital platforms and many Capitol rioters have been implicated by their own social media posts.

“What remained in the digital spilled over in real life. The spilling over, the spilling over is one of the most dramatic cases of the spilling over,” said Ananda Mitra, professor of communication at Wake Forest University.

Mitra says there was a time when virtual and reality remained separate, but that separation has disappeared.

“It is an incredibly dangerous moment in human history this has never happened before. This has never happened where people are so siloed. People are so tunnel-visioned and that is now spilling out in real life,” Mitra said.

He explains that social networks have caused a lot of people to fall in line with each other and adopt the thinking of the group they are in.

“So, all of that was fine as long as you are sitting in your basement and talking about whatever the heck you wanted to talk about, but now you are out on the streets, now you are in front of the Capitol and you entirely believe that narrative. It doesn’t matter who told you, that you’ve actually forgotten who told you the story. That story has become a part of your life. That’s how you are looking at reality,” Mitra said.

Disinformation and misinformation have been a real risk for quite some time. Mitra says in a digital space it’s important to become more critical of the stories.

“You have to figure out what are the different stories about the same event. It goes back to the Capitol. Is it an insurgency, is it a coup, is it an event, is it violent? You look at the event and then you bring your critical judgment to it. Where do you stand?” Mitra said.

He says people are losing the ability and opportunity to listen to others and turning back now is hard because we are a part of the digital system.

“That is the digital spilling over in real life. What we saw on the Capitol is that happening at a much larger scale and at a political level that’s where the change is. I would guarantee given the way in which the two lives are getting interconnected this is going to continue to happen,” Mitra said.

Mitra says it’s important to think for ourselves and not be led by somebody else. He says if we stop bringing our critical judgment we are in a very bad place.

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