The social threat
Fundamental principles underlying democracy – trust, informed dialogue, a shared sense of reality, mutual consent, and participation – are being put to the test by certain features and attributes of social media, says new research. Social media platform design has exacerbated political divisions and polarisation, while some social media algorithms “reinforce divisions and create echo chambers that perpetuate increasingly extreme or biased views over time”, according to the Is Social Media a Threat to Democracy? report from the Omidyar Group.
The researchers point out that the algorithms behind social media platforms convert popularity into legitimacy, overwhelming the public square with multiple, conflicting assertions, while some platforms assume user intentionality (eg in search queries) and conflate this with interest, via features such as auto-fill search terms.
The report also highlights the fact that advanced methods for capturing personal data have led to sophisticated psychographic analysis, behavioural profiling, and micro-targeting of individuals to influence actions via so-called ‘dark ads’ (political messaging tailored to specific personality types).
"For all the ways this technology brings us together, the monetisation and manipulation of information is swiftly tearing us apart," writes eBay founder Pierre Omidyar in The Washington Post. "From foreign interference in our elections to targeted campaigns designed to confuse and divide on important issues, groups looking for an important way to infiltrate and influence our democracy have found generous hosts in the world of social media."