Is Social Media Killing Democracy?

“Our system wasn’t designed for any of this uncontrollable technology.”

Jake Neher/WDET

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg just finished two days of testimony before Congress, where he was asked to explain his company’s handling of users’ private data. The panel also inquired about how Facebook operates, makes money, and whether it has grown so large that it should be considered a monopoly.

The goal, we have to assume, is to determine whether there are better ways to regulate Facebook and other Internet platforms.

But beyond legislation, there’s a bigger conversation swirling about the role of social media in our culture, and particularly in our democracy.

Many people are wondering, for example, about the role social media played in influencing the 2016 presidential election.

Jamie Bartlett is the director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, a think tank based in the United Kingdom. He is also the author of The People vs. Tech, which argues that the internet is killing democracy.  Bartlett joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson and speaks about the ways that social media is shaping the democratic process.

Bartlett says free elections, the press, informed voters, and a strong middle class are essential to upholding what he calls the “pillars of democracy.” 

“Each of them, in slightly different ways, are now being pulled apart by modern digital technology because our system wasn’t designed for any of this uncontrollable technology.” 

“We’re going to have to experiment a lot with different models of social media,” says Bartlett. “Having this industrial-sized addiction to social media…it’s making us distracted and addicted and unable to concentrate.” 

Laura Weber Davis/WDET

Garlin Gilchrist is the founder of the Center for Social Media Responsibility at the University of Michigan. The Center’s mission is to determine the ways in which both social media users and internet technologists should help make the social media landscape safer and more accountable.

Gilchrist joins Detroit Today to explain his work within the context of today’s debate about social media safety.

“There is responsibility to go all the way around. It’s not just the users and consumers,” he says. “There are many roles being played…and we have to understand what everyone’s responsibility is.” 

“It’s our responsibility as individuals to be more responsible and more media literate, but there’s also a limit to that.”

Click on the audio player above for the full conversation. 


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