Technology has fractured democracy, and now there’s no going back.
All around the world, the fringes have stormed the palace of the elites and unleashed data miners, dark ads and bots on an unwitting public. After years of soundbites about connecting people, the social media giants are only just beginning to admit to the scale of the problem.
We stand on the precipice of an era where switching your mobile platform will have more impact on your life than switching your government. Where freedom and privacy are seen as incompatible with social well-being and transparency. Where your attention is sold to the highest bidder.
Our laws don’t cover what is happening and our politicians don’t understand it. But if we don’t fight to change the system now, we may not get another chance.
Web tracking and social media threaten democracy with both anarchic populism and dour authoritarianism, according to this scattershot study of politics and technology. Moore, director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communications and Power at King's College London, spotlights three agents that "poison the democratic well" in 2016: the denizens of the online forum 4chan, incubator of right-wing memes; the plutocrats who fund the news site Breitbart, promulgator of right-wing ideology; and the Russian government, producer of bot-driven pro-Trump fake news and Twitter commentary. Moore provides a lucid rundown of what he sees as the key enabler of this propaganda: the relentless data collection and customer profiling operations of tech giants including Google and Facebook, which permit the microtargeting of manipulative political messages. Speculating on where these capabilities are headed, he forecasts a total surveillance society under the soft dictatorship of corporations or hard dictatorship of government inquisitors. Moore's argument that digital technology empowers both Big Brother and 4chan's antiestablishment "freextremists" isn't very coherent, and his anxious portrait of a hacked democracy of "smear stories about opposition candidates... vehement partisanship... singularly one-sided information" sounds a lot like the democratic electioneering the West has known for centuries. Moore's alarmist brief fails to make a strong case that politics on the internet are uniquely poisonous or even unusual.)