Essay on Online Democracy

Published: 2021/12/02
Number of words: 1615

The Internet plays a critical role in promoting democracy because it enables photo sharing, text messaging, and messaging which help citizens to expose vote fraud, reveal corruption, document human rights abuses, create a conducive environment for freedom of expression, and document human rights abuses. Digital tools empower the citizens to generally make the state more just, open, and decent and thus improve basic infrastructures such as health and roads. We can therefore term the internet as “liberation technology” because it helps fight against injustice, poverty, and repression. Protests to ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak were organized on social media, young Chinese bloggers challenged Communist Party propaganda by creating clever memes and the Malaysiakini exposed ethnic discrimination, corruption, and police brutality in Malaysia showing that the internet plays a major role in countering repression and censorship of authoritarian regimes. However, authoritarian regimes have also adopted using the internet to filter, monitor, and control access to the internet to counter the efforts of liberal citizens and civil society.

The rise in cyberbullying and the use of abusive language online shows that autocrats and democrats were vying for control of cyberspace. According to Larry (2020), even liberal democracies and privacy rights came under pressure from state and corporate actors. The state developed new digital tools of repression such as facial recognition technology to divide the citizens and net into national pieces. When individual citizens, technology companies, civil society, and democratic governments work together, they can reverse the ill winds of polarization, manipulation, and disinformation which makes the internet a safer place for democracy.

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The dangers social media pose to democracy have become clearer and more urgent with the increased dominance of using social media for transmitting opinions, news, and political appeals. This threat is created by the radical democratization of information that enables anyone to share information without considering appropriate editorial filters and standards. According to Larry (2020), two-thirds of Americans said that they receive at least some of their news via social media by 2017 and most Americans get news on social media than through radio and newspaper today. Also, it is estimated that 40% of the world’s population (3.2 billion people) use social media by mid-2018 and this rate was growing at 13 percent annually. There are several platforms including WeChat, WhatsApp, and Instagram which have close to or more than 1 billion users. Facebook has more than 2 billion users and thus we can all see the beauty and ugliness of humanity in such a connection. I agree with Larry that it is important to have advance editorial filters, space limits, and scheduling constraints to ensure that emotive, provocative and downright outrageous content does not instantly widespread.

Most social media platforms aim to reduce manipulation by requiring several details when one is opening an account to have the true identity of users. This does not mean that anonymous or fake accounts do not exist but it shows that social media platforms are open to manipulation by malign forces, domestic and foreign. Larry (2020) posits “that it would be costly and difficult to establish every user’s true identity”. A recent synthesis by the Omidyar group shows several interconnected dangers that social media pose to democracy. According to the synthesis, social media intensifies polarization because propaganda easily spreads, and the more outrageous the content, the more viral it becomes. Political parties, governments, and leaders use these platforms to establish direct and carefully targeted ties with their supporters and spread divisive and false messages. I agree with the group synthesis that when the public sphere of mutual respect and civility are drained due to o deepening polarization, healthy democracy in a country is hampered. Freedom and individual privacy suffer along with democracy as everything is digitized and tracked (Papacharissi, 2004). Social media has made it easy and quick for like-minded individuals to find each other and bond and disparage those who disagree.

Algorithms are machine cultures that ensure that information sent to users shelters them from information that might challenge beliefs. Algorithms help in friend suggestions, search results, news, and updates and are determined by their biases, interests, and even shopping preferences. According to la Larry (2020), early research in sociology suggests that people who tend to be moderate in their views have most frequently interacted with people of different political views, religions, and ethnicities. I agree with Larry that people have shared fears, beliefs, and resentments and this is seen when “cross-pressures” evaporate. People of different religions or different political views live in different factual worlds because they have unlike news sources and their friends send them the news that strengthens their prejudices. This makes people intolerant to opposing views and less willing to listen to them, dismissing different opinions as “fake news” even what can be at times true.

In social media, distortion of the truth takes two forms; “misinformation” which is the inadvertent sharing of false information, and “disinformation” which is the deliberate manufacture and circulation of false information. Newer technologies in imaging have led to increased creation and propagation of misleading content because fiction is gripping and entertaining than the truth. Larry (2020) suggests that, digital platforms can be used by governments and political groups to achieve a geopolitical or strategic outcome like Russia’s hacking of the 2016 U.S elections. These operations intimidate the opposition and amplify outrage using fake human or robots digital accounts and thus make people more polarized and angrier.

In the last few years, the destructive scope of disinformation has increased exponentially and is expected to increase in the coming years. “Deep fakes” have been enhanced by rapid advances in artificial intelligence that manipulate voices and images to make it appear that people said or did what they have not. This budding technology undermines the reliability of true video evidence as people find it harder to believe their ears and eyes. According to Larry (2020), even the traditional media is losing legitimacy and credibility as distrust and doubt are becoming routine. These traditional media outlets have elevated the legitimacy of the governments, experts, and established institutions by determining and explaining the facts, fairly, accurately, and rigorously. In social media information that trends is that which is popular, viral, and buzzy and this means information that is from friends and peers is more trustworthy than that which is from established institutions (Witschge, 2004). Considering the rate of disinformation in social media, we are at a greater danger of loss of confidence in all channels of authority and information.

I am with the agreement with the suggestion that to ensure that the internet is a safe place for democracy, technological innovations, corporate reforms, and government responses are required in reclaiming the internet. This is because the freedom of expression can be curtailed by an autocratic government in the pretense of defending democracy against disinformation and hate speech (Dewey, 1903). It is critical to ensure that political and corporate authority is in the hands of individuals who hold democratic values dear. It is the responsibility of all citizens to participate in candid online conversations where they can express diverse opinions in a serious but decent way because the success of democracy in the real world and online depend on citizen’s participation. Social media is a great tool for freedom of expression as long as religious freedom and eschewing taboos are observed.

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I suggest that all stakeholders should be aimed at fighting disinformation, trolls, and bots, resisting electoral manipulation and foreign interference, combating intolerance and hate speech, educating citizens on appropriate social media use, and reconciling state policies with democratic values. Fighting disinformation involves flagging “disputed” news -items by using professional fact-checkers o detect malicious, false, and sloppy information (Larry, 2020). With more research, dubious or disputed news articles will be easily tagged and thus ensure factual news and information is accessed by social media users. Social media platforms must therefore make deliberate efforts to protect the integrity of election processes and campaigns from anonymous or foreign interventions . Social media platforms should also ensure that their machine-learning algorithms deal transparently with the public and their users and that they bear some responsibility for the content they publish.

It is my strong feeling that democratic governments, independent media, and tech companies should ensure that citizens are educated to use the internet safely, respectively, and skeptically from a young age to ensure that they are not vulnerable to the perils of social media. Despite the many efforts that can be implemented by the government and tech companies including using artificial intelligence to remove or denote hate speech, banning fake or anonymous accounts, and many other efforts, the political and moral environment is a key determinant of what circulates online. The political environment can be improved by ensuring that state policies are well structured and amply legislated as legislating under pressure rarely produces wise policy. The moral environment can be improved by ensuring that citizens have patriotic values which can only be equipped at very early stages of life. Democracy without education is a weapon and online democracy without education, checks and limits is a time bomb. We should therefore unite to combat digital littering as much as we fight physical littering because digital littering can have dire consequences on all aspects of our lives.


Dewey, J. (1903). Democracy in education. The elementary school teacher4(4), 193-204.

Diamond, L. (2020). Ill winds: Saving democracy from Russian rage, Chinese ambition, and American complacency. Penguin Books.

Papacharissi, Z. (2004). Democracy online: Civility, politeness, and the democratic potential of online political discussion groups. New media & society6(2), 259-283.

Witschge, T. (2004). Online deliberation: Possibilities of the Internet for deliberative democracy. In Democracy online (pp. 129-142). Routledge.

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