Social Media & Democracy
This week on Facebook: The world is rapidly changing and there is no doubt that social media has a part to play in this change where global technology has made social media an integral part of most peoples lives. However, just because the technology provides access to world events and opinions it doesn’t mean that all social media users are informed. Although homophily¹ may lead to some form of cohesion between social media users there is a danger that is less obvious and more sinister, the ability to subvert social media and threaten democracy itself.
In last week’s article I wrote about Ethics and the Law with reference to the Paradise Papers exposé by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Researching online material for this and other posts reveals how the homophily of social networks divides them and makes them vulnerable to subversion. This subversion is seen as being not just commercial but as a threat to the democratic process, opening the floodgates to political manipulation and rule by vociferous social media homophily.
The image below is linked to an article with the sub title ‘Digitised Homophily on Social Media’. The main title of the article asks if filter bubbles and echo chambers’ are a threat to democracy? The threats most social media users ignore is that of their complacency and their indifference regarding freedom of expression, something that is assumed to apply across all social media platforms. A complacency and indifference that is not shared by those who would subvert it for their own self interest.
The threat to democracy introduced by the use of social media is real in its intent, not only by those that wish to destabilise democracy and seek to manipulate it for their own political purposes, but also by those pursuing a commercial self interest. The greatest danger to democracy — if it is to have any value at all — comes from those who profess to support its principles. Principles that the overt and covert actions of those professing support for democracy belie. Actions of self interest that have little to do with democracy but are made in anticipation of either political or commercial gain and often both.
Eli Pariser on TED explain’s just how much influence the social media has over our lives and how quickly social media’s influence has developed as a threat to democracy itself.
Monday — Social Media and Democracy: The internet and the rise of social media has changed the terms of the free speech debate worldwide. There has always been bad information, propaganda, and disinformation deliberately put out to affect political outcomes. The traditional free speech defense has been the marketplace of ideas: if there is bad information, the solution is not to censor or regulate it, but to put out good information, which will eventually counter the bad. More information is always better. But it’s not clear that this strategy works so well in the internet age, when thousands of bots and trolls can amplify the bad messages without anyone knowing.
Tuesday — Do social media threaten democracy? In a liberal democracy, nobody gets exactly what he wants, but everyone broadly has the freedom to lead the life he chooses. However, without decent information, civility and conciliation, societies resolve their differences by resorting to coercion.
Wednesday — Can Social Media Undermine Democracy? It remains to be seen how social media can be used to enlist popular support for policies vital to a nation’s common good but which would impose costs on politically powerful segments of the population.
Thursday — Is Social Media Killing Democracy? Platforms like Twitter and Facebook now provide a structure for our political lives. We’ve always relied on many kinds of sources for our political news and information. Family, friends, news organizations, charismatic politicians certainly predate the internet. But whereas those are sources of information, social media now provides the structure for political conversation. And the problem is that these technologies permit too much fake news, encourage our herding instincts, and aren’t expected to provide public goods.
Friday — How social media is crippling democracy, and why we seem powerless to stop it: We are now living in the information age, and we’re all victims of Technology Augmented Autism. We all have tiny little attention spans, and we consume news by information snacking.
¹Birds Of A Feather — Homophily In Social Networks (pdf): Homophily is the principle that a contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people. The pervasive fact of homophily means that cultural, behavioural, genetic, or material information that flows through networks will tend to be localized. Homophily implies that distance in terms of social characteristics translates into network distance, the number of relationships through which a piece of information must travel to connect two individuals.
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