Digital Democracy, Social Media and Disinformation

I enjoy sharing books, music and other cultural products.  The one shared here is special because it involves a book I co-authored with my close friend and colleague, Petros Iosifidis.  Digital Democracy, Social Media and Disinformation took slightly over two years to complete but most of the coherent writing was done during the first lockdown, and slightly into the summer period.

2020 is an era defined by oppositionism amplified across the digital landscape.  An era fuelled by disinformation, foreign interference, ideological battles, surveillance.  The results across societies have been alarming – selective exposure is growing, online camps are forming, pitchforks are sharpening, and tribes are compounding. 

It was not always like this.  The dawn of digitalisation was accompanied by a rise in technophiles who saw the technology as an emancipating tool that would liberate the world.  I too were a member of this fraternity but little by little I began to see the cracks formed by neoliberal forces, and as such, began to realise the cost of digital disruption.  The ideals of a digital democracy regressed as digitalisation fostered the perfect stage to attack liberal democracies.  Digital democracy is today merely a normative oasis among an otherwise belligerent, chaotic digital landscape.  That’s why I chose this part from the introduction of the book to share with you below.  It is to be read as a warning sign.  A sign that if this goes on for much longer authoritarianism will rear its head everywhere like it did just under a century ago.

At the time of writing, like most people around the world, I was in a situation that alternated between desperation, disappointment and sadness. Yet working on this project offered me a sense of empowerment and purpose; a feeling that I was doing something about this capricious period.  So, along with the despair I also felt a little exhilarated and elated, and an enormous sense of lucidity.  Not on account of the writing per se, because I find writing extremely challenging.  It was the research.  I found it fascinating.  The book seems timely – even more so now than two years ago.  Having conducted the research and written about it, I can now see the dangers clearer. 

“…as liberal democracies have become contaminated by neoliberal versions of itself, tolerance and universalism have ironically exposed their weaknesses. ‘If liberalism is tolerant of divergences of opinion’, asks Turner (2003: 6), ‘how does it deal with opinions that abhor tolerance? To what extent can liberal regimes tolerate enemies from within, such as parties that reject the liberal rules of the game, the conventions of discussion that make persuasion possible?’ Such a critical dilemma becomes a catalytically component of why polarisation and populism have grown, since the question asked by Turner is in fact embedded within the core of the liberal order.”

Digital Democracy, Social Media and Disinformation