Digital Democracy Will Face Its Greatest Test In 2020

The following article originally appeared on The Guardian. We draw attention to it to highlight how drastically both the digital landscape and public opinion has shifted in relation to these tech giants.


After a decade of shallow proclamations of their democratic potential, it’s clear that Facebook, Twitter and Google are major threats to democracy

‘The shocks of 2016 awakened journalists and regulators to the ways that social media undermines democracy.’

Between the December 2019 elections in the United Kingdom and the November 2020 elections in the United States, the major global tech platforms will probably scramble to neutralize calls for their regulation or dismemberment.

Under the oxymoronic rubric of “self-regulation”, Facebook, Twitter and Google are already considering ways to appear responsible and protective of the integrity of those two elections. Twitter has pledged to stop running political ads, and both Google and Facebook are considering suspending precise targeting of political ads.

In 2016 Facebook played pivotal roles in the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, the Brexit referendum and the electoral college victory of Donald Trump in the United States.

The shocks of 2016 awakened journalists and regulators to the ways that social media undermines democracy. After a decade of shallow proclamations of their democratic potential, it’s clear that Facebook, Twitter and Google are, in fact, major threats to democracy.

First, their targeted advertising services sever any sense of democratic accountability from the campaigns and parties that deploy them. Ads only reach the eyes for which they are intended – and thus never face scrutiny or response from opponents, critics or journalists.

Second, their algorithms amplify divisive, emotionally triggering content that can distract or disgust voters and undermine trust in democratic politics, institutions and ethnic or religious minorities.

And third, Facebook, Twitter and Google are designed to motivate people to do things like shop or vote. They undermine efforts to deliberate or think deeply about problems. Democracies need both motivation and deliberation.

The fate of Trump – lifted into office in 2016 in part by the power of Facebook to motivate and organize his core white nationalist supporters – preoccupies both critics and champions of Facebook, Twitter and Google.

But more than 60 countries will hold elections in 2020. Facebook and Google will be important variables in almost all of them. The first of these elections will be in January in Taiwan, where more than 89% of adults use Facebook regularly – a much higher percentage…

Read the original article on The Guardian