Democracy; the political model that everyone swears by today. But is it the best we could have for our societies? A questions that few think about.
People are usually close minded when it comes to replace democracy. They are unable to understand how a model that involves the participation of all in decision making could be bad. When we tell people that democracy should be replaced, they think straight about dictatorship, which is a misconception that our societies cultivated on their citizens in terms of governance models. In fact, my article is far from promoting another existing model.
Before discussing democracy’s issues nowadays, let’s define it first!
According to the “Stanford Edu” website, democracy is composed of four elements:
- A political system to choose/replace a government through free and fair elections.
- The active participation of citizens in political and civic life.
- Protection of the citizens’ human rights.
- A rule of law applied equally to all citizens.
Because of digital evolution, the second point is highly affected by the internet nowadays. As part of democracy, citizens should participate in public life. They should be informed about public issues, listen to all the different parties and read each one’s agenda, to well accomplish the civic duty: voting.
Democracy is a model that has been developed before the digital era, and it really shows its limits because of that. Today, social media shapes democracy. Voting is influenced before ending in ballot boxes.
The real problem actually, is that democracy and the internet are two big world taking a huge part of our lives, but that don’t operate with the same speed! There is a huge time gap between democracy and the internet: Democratic bodies are elected in periods that usually exceed two years, but the internet interaction fluctuate daily. Politicians nowadays can’t keep up with the virtual opinions expressed by their citizens. Also, the political debates happening on social media develop faster than any policy making. The pressure that people put on politicians is sometimes unreal: changing a policy can take years, but the debate about it on social media can go very deep in only a month or less. This generates citizens’ dissatisfaction, politicians’ pressure, and a large space of misunderstanding where the manipulation of the public opinion happens.
This lead us to a dilemma: that the people’s opinions grow very fast on social media, exceeding the speed that the political world can ever have, which disconnects the virtual world from the real world. But at the same time, opinions shared through the internet are real and still related and strongly connected to the political reality.
Another huge problem is that citizens are too informed through the internet. Social media is overloaded with an incredible amount of information and it’s hard to differentiate between real and fake news.
The amount of content that we find on the internet implies that people only choose to believe in what matches already their own ideas. On social media, we choose who to follow or befriend, so we choose somehow the information that we want to receive. Therefore, we see only what we actually want to, thinking we have a global view on the happening debate. Plus, on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, there are some filters that show only a part of the online discussion. So, the online political debate is rigged somehow. This increases conflicts and segregation between opposing views rather than creating a digitally mediated public agora.
One of the best examples is Brexit: UK citizens got a lot of information on the internet, hard to verify at the moment. People were told through social media that Brexit will give more jobs and wellness to the UK. Based on that, they voted for the Brexit, without verifying the truthfulness of those various news. People were influenced somehow, that’s why their decision doesn’t really reflect their will, even if all the process was democratic.
Another very strong example is the last US elections: Trump had won with an almost majority of citizens’ vote. The votes weren’t rigged at all. But now, citizens found out that they were influenced by social media. And last days, it has been found that the Trump campaign had bought from Facebook through Cambridge Analytica citizens’ info (their likes, comments, friendships on Facebook) to manipulate them better.
Overall, we can’t deny that democracy is the best ruling model that exists.
But being the best existing one doesn’t imply being the best. Many events have shown the limits of the model. Today, democracy is failing. It either has to evolve and adapt to the internet with its pros and cons, or be replaced by a new model of governance suitable to the digital era.
Meanwhile, as citizens, to prevent democracy from destroying our governments, we should stay well informed from trustworthy sources. Also, we should always read both sides of a debate on social media to not be influenced by any movement. Then, we will protect ourselves from democracy’s downfall.
And as Japheth J. Omojuwa (CEO of Alpha Reach) said: “We used to have dictators who came to power by undermining elections. Today we have dictators who are enthroned and legitimized by elections.”