“Democracy is not guaranteed and it’s not inevitable.”
Pop quiz – which great American hero is the above from? I’ll give you a moment…take a guess…
Time’s up. Trick question. It’s a British investigative journalist named Carole Cadwalladr.
If you don’t have 15 minutes to watch (and you really should) Carole lays out a compelling case for just how much peril democracy is in. Using the Brexit mess as a jumping off point, she lays bare just how culpable Facebook is in shielding the world from what is really happening on its’ platform.
Subversive actors with specific, detailed agendas are utilizing technology to manipulate human emotions and behaviors via the mass dissemination of terrifying untruths, falsehoods and lies. And they are getting away with it.
Why? Partly because Facebook won’t turn over the data that led communities like Carole’s (Wales) to believe things that are simply not true…who then acted on flat out false information in a voting booth on a decision that has global implications.
Thomas Jefferson said that the strength of Democracy resides with an informed citizenry, in fact he said it was at the heart of Democracy. There may be nothing more important to an informed citizenry than the notion of shared truths.
In this day and age people don’t know what to believe anymore so they believe whatever’s convenient to them even if it’s simply untrue. In the case Carole lays out in her Ted Talk, of Welsh Citizens voting for Brexit, they did so despite actual facts being right there in front of their face. Between the false “reality” of what they saw on their digital devices and the actual reality in front of their eyeballs…they went with the digital illusion.
Which is awfully hard to square with the notion of “shared truths.”
And the problem is only getting worse. The targeting tools and datasets that are being harvested by all of the tech companies are charting the course towards a future where the highest bidders will have free reign to prey on almost any population they desire.
That might sound alarmist. But step back and think critically about it. It’s all right there in front of our very eyes.
This is not a right issue or a left issue. It has nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat or a member of the Tory or Labour parties. This has to do with democracy.
So, what do we do about it?
Well to start with, let’s put the light on it. To invert the quote “Democracy Dies in Darkness”, let’s shine the light on the discussion. Let’s elevate the discussion so it becomes an issue that elected officials from every perspective need to contend with and hear about regularly.
Secondly, let’s remember to keep this in context. People have been lying and spreading untruths forever (for the history lesson on this check out 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Harari, in the “Post-Truth” chapter). This time around it just happens to feel (and be) different due to technological “advances” that brought us to today.
Separately, let’s bring truly holistic thinking to the problem. I talk a lot about Holistic thinking in my book, The Holistic Campaign. We need to bring together thinkers from across the spectrum to take on this issue. Think what the Bretton Woods conference did for international economic policy 75 years ago – they remade the whole world order in a way not many had considered and no one had ever tried. Let’s do the same when it comes to governing, regulating, and utilizing technology in the pursuit of sustaining and strengthening democracy in the 21st century.
We are indeed at a point of inflection. This is all very real and very different than ever before if for no other reason than how people can and do communicate and manipulate via the internet. We all have a choice. We can choose to ignore the facts or we can choose to fight for democracy. Me? I choose the fight any day.