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Social Media in a Democracy

Robin Olsen holds a B.Sc In Computer Systems and has over 20 years of IT Experience. In that time he has worked in many different industries

Social Media's ability to block one candidate over another should be very alarming

Social Media's ability to block one candidate over another should be very alarming

It's almost election time again

In a democracy, the free flow of information regarding candidates and their positions as well as the events around them is absolutely critical for a population to make an informed decision. Anything that tries to impede that flow of information can be logically seen as a threat to democracy.

Social media is proving to be just such a threat in my opinion. The restrictions (or censorship if you want) imposed by social media sites, as well as their propensity to allow just about any false story or post providing it is in support of one side of the floor or the other (depending on the site owner's preferences) is not only alarming to individuals who support democracies, it is destructive to our democratic societies.

Let's ask the Question

Social Media is mostly deception

Individuals need to remember to protect themselves from outside sources (social media) that would block information on one candidate or another. If a citizen is to make an informed decision in that voting booth then the free flow of information on both candidates has to be fully supported, otherwise we are getting our opinions handed to us by a outside, usually non democratic, source. We need to remember that mass media, including social media, can be used to mold our opinions as much as present us with information.

In order to protect our democracies from this type of influence we, the voting public, need to remember that most of what we see on social media is deception. Most of the social media sites contain bots, A.I. based accounts made to represent people, that have been programmed to favor certain posts and to post according to specifics inputted by the corporations. The second issue is fake accounts, which the internet is loaded with. A single individual is capable of creating an unlimited number of free email accounts which could then be used to create other accounts on social media sites. These fake accounts are then used to misrepresent public opinions, smear political candidates, alter perceived opinions on social issues. etc.

Such people can be sponsored by political parties, governments, corporations, or even activist groups and international bodies. Deception is everywhere in social media as it exists today.


Do we need laws to limit Social Media's influence?

It should be illegal for corporations to censor social media in this way. It has already been determined, in court rooms, that social media sites are basically public forums so we should make sure the private corporate operators of these sites are not allowed to censor free speech or try to condition the population and mold public opinions.

During election runs, all candidates should be given equal time. To deny one candidate a voice in this public forum is a corruption of democracy and should be guarded against.

Having said this I do not think laws are the answer. First, enforcing them would be problematic as these corporations could easily tie things up in a court room for years. Law enforcement usually is ineffective until after the crime has been committed. Besides, there are too many bots and fake accounts out there to contain with a couple of laws.

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Cleaning up social media will take a concentrated effort so it can be used to properly measure public mood. For now, we need to simply remember that social media is deception, not facts, and that it can never be used to properly measure public opinions until it is cleaned up.

Let's ask the Question

Social media is the 'soap box' of the 21st century

If social media is to be used as a proper public forum for discussions then the corporate censorship has to stop. Candidates need to be heard. It would be improper, during a public speaking engagement or televised debate, to turn off the microphone of one of the participants so he could not be heard, or to pan the camera in a different direction. Denying someone the ability to campaign using social media, either by blocking them directly or by employing bots and fake accounts to smear the candidate and mold political opinions, amounts to the same thing when you think about it.

The type of influence does not have to be corporate or government sponsored either. Fake accounts and bots can also be used by activist groups to mislead the public on the popularity of certain ideological beliefs, smear political candidates and to portray false opinions on social issues.

Search engines can also be manipulated to present information in a very specific manner in order to elicit a very specific public response or to mold moods and opinions. Democracy only works when the people have good information and are free from influence to form their own opinions.

The ability for just about anybody to use social media in this abusive way is staggering. All it needs is a little organization, the system is almost designed to allow this to happen.


The end of this road is not pretty

People living in a democracy are basically peaceful for the most part. Political divisiveness is usually left at the voting booths and the perceptions are that everyone has had their say.

When the people lose this perception and get it into their heads that voting is no longer relevant and it is all just a game of manipulation at the corporate levels, that is when real problems start. This is why we need to defend our democracies against corporate censorship and influence, because the alternatives are not pleasant to live with.

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Robin Olsen

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