Can democracy survive the Internet?


In more innocent times, the rise of the Internet was seen by many people as a boon to democracy. Now, in what are clearly less innocent times, the Internet is viewed as a far less benign force. It can be a haven for spreading fake news and rewarding the harshest and most divisive of political rhetoric, the Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes, referencing Nathaniel Persily’s Journal of Democracy article: “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?”

The provocative title isn’t simply the result of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, though that is obviously a front-and-center issue. “I think it’s the shiny object that everyone understandably pays attention to right now, but the problem is bigger than that,” Persily said during an interview a few days ago….

Some of the problems identified are not necessarily new. There were false or misleading stories in the media before the Internet existed, as the era of “yellow journalism” reminds us. Anonymous political communication existed long before the Internet.

The Internet, however, involves characteristics that heighten the disruptive and damaging influences on political campaigns. One, Persily said, is the velocity of information, the speed with which news, including fake news, moves and expands and is absorbed. Viral communication can create dysfunction in campaigns and within democracies.

The Journal of Democracy is an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy.


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