The emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web in the 1990s was greeted as a moment of liberation and a boon for democracy worldwide, notes Francis Fukuyama, a senior fellow at Stanford University and Director of the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Information constitutes a form of power, and to the extent that information was becoming cheaper and more accessible, democratic publics would be able to participate in domains from which they had been hitherto excluded, he writes for Project Syndicate:
While there was some truth to this positive narrative, another, darker one was also taking shape. Those old authoritarian forces were responding in dialectical fashion, learning to control the Internet, as in China, with its tens of thousands of censors, or, as in Russia, by recruiting legions of trolls and unleashing bots to flood social media with bad information.. …
The traditional remedy for bad information, according to freedom-of-information advocates, is simply to put out good information, which in a marketplace of ideas will rise to the top. This solution, unfortunately, works much less well in a social-media world of trolls and bots. There are estimates that as many as a third to a quarter of Twitter users fall into this category. The Internet was supposed to liberate us from gatekeepers; and, indeed, information now comes at us from all possible sources, all with equal credibility. There is no reason to think that good information will win out over bad information.
“The inability to agree on the most basic facts is the direct product of an across-the-board assault on democratic institutions – in the US, in Britain, and around the world,” adds Fukuyama, author of Political Order and Political Decay and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. “And this is where the democracies are headed for trouble.” RTWT