Johnson ethicist asks whether social media might undermine democracy

In Huffington Post piece, Dana Radcliffe explains why he is concerned about the influence of social media in both mature and budding democracies

Johnson ethicist asks whether social media might undermine democracy
Can Social Media Undermine Democracy? (Huffington Post, Oct. 18)
By Dana Radcliffe, senior lecturer in business ethics at Johnson

Facebook and Twitter are transforming politics around the world, but to what effect? They helped dissidents drive dictators from power in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. No doubt they will continue to help subvert despotic regimes. Will they also foster democracy in newly liberated nations? Will they increase the leverage of activists pressing democratic governments to be more responsive to citizens' needs? Or will they be balkanizing forces, empowering competing constituencies and making it harder for old democracies to function and new democracies to take root?

Since the Arab Spring, protesters have used communications technology to organize massive demonstrations against government policies in Spain, Greece, Israel and India. Their targets were not dictators but elected officials they saw as corrupt or indifferent to the interests of most people in those countries. Some observers regard these events as signs of a new, more enlightened era of global politics. Indeed, it is tempting to agree with a recent Forbes cover story on the power of social media that the "world is becoming more democratic and reflective of the will of ordinary people." Unfortunately, there is good reason to be skeptical. MORE

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