Question: What are the democratic possibilities of social media? How can social media aid political repression?
The ease of information distribution makes social media a powerful force. We’re able to read the latest news and then share it instantly with (theoretically) hundreds to thousands of others in our networks. It allows city council meetings and protests to be livestreamed, so that even people who aren’t there can get an accurate account of events as they’re happening. This feature can be used to expose corruption and police brutality.
However, the omniscience and bias of the almighty algorithm bring troubling possibilities to light. The phenomenon of “bubbles”, or networks of like-minded people reposting and sharing the same ideas which may or may not be generated by partisan propaganda, has generated an ever-increasing divide among citizens. This allows foreign powers or domestic bad actors to infiltrate the consciousness of different groups to generate radicalism, fear, and even the powerful use of silence in the face of atrocities.
The ability to monitor and dissect all communications makes corporations and interested governments extremely powerful. Imagine COINTELPRO in the Internet age: all communications of activists and sympathizers would be monitored, making it even easier for plants to infiltrate movements and sabotage the efforts of citizen dissenters. With our current leader threatening to declare Antifa (not an organized group at all) as domestic terrorists, this possibility is very likely, and next steps similar to Pinochet’s assault on the people of Chile are not far behind.