How social media can weaken — and strengthen — democracy


The past year has seen a flood of concern about how social media can undermine democracy. And yet not too long ago, after the Arab Spring, social media was being hailed as a “liberation technology” that would help spread democracy, note analysts Joshua Tucker, Yannis Theocharis, Margaret E. Roberts and Pablo Barberá. How can this be?

“In a recent ungated article in the [National Endowment for Democracy’s] Journal of Democracy, we answer this question with two observations,” they write for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

  • First, social media is a tool for giving voice to those excluded from access to the mainstream media.
  • Second, despite the fact that social-media democratizes access to information, those using it can simultaneously censor and manipulate information to try to silence others’ voices. Some of these forms of censorship — such as hindering access to information or threatening would-be opposition figures — are centuries old. Others — such as employing bots and trolls to change the online conversation — are particular to the digital age.


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