Messages and news on social media have been "crucial in the Brexit vote, Italy's constitutional referendum, the US presidential campaign" as well as the French and German elections.
Because of the influence of social media, people outside the geographical bounds of the democracy can campaign and manipulate opinions to affect the outcome. The combination of social media with mass data and large amounts of money can be very powerful. “The interaction between bots, scripts, automated responses and real humans can influence voter behaviour, too… Social media galvanises like-minded people, reinforcing the kind of mob mentality pervasive on the platform.”
The messages people receive from their social media during election campaigns increasingly depends on whether they are considered persuadable voters. “If the data says you vote frequently and that you may have been a swing voter in the past, the race is a maelstrom. You’re besieged with ads, calls, and invitations from friends. If you vote intermittently, you get a lot of encouragement to get out to the polls.” But those who tend vote the same way each time will not receive all this campaign traffic.
Reference: Eli Pariser. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin. 2011, p. 136.
Yahoo is conducting a series of experiments to determine how to match the publicly available list of who voted in each district with the click signals and Web history data it picks up on its site. And data-aggregation firms like Rapleaf in San Francisco are trying to correlate Facebook social graph information with voting behavior—so that they can show you the political ad that best works for you based on the responses of your friends.
Candidates send targeted messages about particular issues to discrete populations rather than general messages on a range of issues to everyone. This means that public debate is diminished and undermined. It also means that the campaign messages sent to some sections of the population are not seen by others and are difficult to counteract by opponents. False messages and fake news can go undetected by those who would correct them.
Reference: Eli Pariser. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin. 2011, p. 145.
Ultimately, democracy works only if we citizens are capable of thinking beyond our narrow self-interest. But to do so, we need a shared view of the world we cohabit… The filter bubble pushes us in the opposite direction—it creates the impression that our narrow self-interest is all that exists. And while this is great for getting people to shop online, it’s not great for getting people to make better decisions together.
© 2017 Sharon Beder