Why is social media compatible with authoritarianism?


Once hailed as a force for human empowerment and liberation, social media—and the various related digital tools that enable people to search for, access, accumulate, and process information—have come to be regarded as a complex threat to democratic stability and human freedom.

Democracies have been slow to recognize the multifaceted challenges posed by sharpening levels of online polarization and manipulation, new threats to individual rights and privacy in the digital space, the tension between the business model of social media companies and their responsibilities to democratic societies, and authoritarian efforts to diffuse digital technologies of surveillance and control.

Ronald J. Deibert and Xiao Qiang discuss these threats, above, as outlined in their January 2019 Journal of Democracy articles on “Three Painful Truths about Social Media” and “President Xi’s Surveillance State,” respectively. Shanthi Kalathil of NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies provides comments.

FEATURING Ronald J. Deibert, Citizen Lab Xiao Qiang, China Digital Times Shanthi Kalathil, International Forum for Democratic Studies

MODERATED BY Christopher Walker, National Endowment for Democracy

WITH INTRODUCTORY REMARKS BY Marc F. Plattner, Journal of Democracy

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