Social Media as a Threat to Democracy

Social media threatens democracy in multiple ways. First, it spreads misinformation, amplifying illiberal agendas. Social media networks such as Facebook and YouTube are full of far-left and far-right commentators sharing narrow-minded views. Many people are gullible and blindly listen to these hosts, resulting in millions following a populist wave without regard to democracy and the rule of law.

Furthermore, social media lies and propaganda ignite protests and demonstrations against democratic processes. For example, in the U.S, social media posts convinced Trump supporters to reject election results and organize the storming of the Capitol.  https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2021/01/07/social-media-capitol-mob. Social media allows opposition leaders and government critics to incite the masses into opposing a democratically elected government. It spreads propaganda to persuade the public to reject an administration and court rulings despite having no evidence of wrongdoing.

Social media threatens democracy by empowering external players to influence elections. The 2016 presidential elections in the U.S demonstrate how external players exploit technology to affect election outcomes. According to reports, Russia meddled with the U.S. elections by spreading information aimed at denigrating Hillary Clinton and undermining American’s confidence in the U.S’s electoral system. https://theconversation.com/fact-check-us-what-is-the-impact-of-russian-interference-in-the-us-presidential-election-146711. Russia achieved its objective because the information they relayed made Americans develop a negative view toward Hillary Clinton. Rogue individuals and countries use social media to subvert democratic processes, including general elections.

Another way social media threatens democracy is by promoting terrorism. Technologies, including smartphones, the internet, and social media, allow terrorist organizations to recruit followers worldwide. For example, ISIS exploited social media to attract sympathizers in other countries like the U.S, U.K, and France. Some people in these countries supported ISIS and Jihad, resulting in terrorist attacks in Western countries and instability in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. The growing terrorist threats in the West undermine democracy as countries adopted extreme measures to mitigate attacks. People, especially Muslims and Arabs, are violated by security agencies and police who discriminately target them. The Trump administration banned people from seven countries, further undermining democracy.

Social media undermines democracy by promoting hate speech. Some far-right and conservative figures use social media to spread hate against minorities and marginalized groups. Hate speech on social media motivates individuals to harass and oppress people of other races, ethnicities, or nationalities. For example, nationalists and white supremacists humiliate minorities by telling them that they do not belong in a particular country. Such racist and discriminatory practices penetrate boardrooms and legislatures, denying minorities an opportunity to participate in democratic processes. Social media fuels hate speech and hate crime, making minority groups feel isolated and excluded.

Moreover, social media undermines democracy by manipulating consumers. Facebook and other social networks capture unprecedented data amounts to help companies influence buyer behavior. Social media sites use algorithms to determine the content and products to show to users, denying people the right to decide what to buy and which content to view. Such practices are undemocratic because they transfer decision-making power from individuals to private companies. Social media companies harvest personal data and use it to shape people’s decisions, views, and behaviors.

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