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Social Media Is Good for Democracy

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  • Silicon Valley: The New "Big Brother"?

    Venture capitalist Roger McNamee argues that social media companies are responsible for manipulation of users, surveillance, and “brain-hacking.”

  • Legacy Media or Social Media Undermining Democracy?

    The Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism’s Jeff Jarvis and Franklin Foer debate the media’s impact on democracy.

  • Mirror, Mirror on the Screen

    The debaters discuss the “mirror metaphor” and whether social media just reflects human behavior.

  • Audience Question: Social Media and Voting

    How does social media affect voter participation? Roger McNamee responds.

  • Social Media in China

    Digital diplomacy adviser Emily Parker, The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, and investor Roger McNamee discuss social media’s effects in China.

  • Audience Question: Social Media as a Tool

    Is social media a dangerous tool? Or is it benign? Emily Parker and Roger McNamee debate.

  • Never Fear, Social Media Is Here

    In his closing argument, Jeff Jarvis argues that there’s no reason to fear social media.

  • Defining Democracy

    Is democracy the will of the majority? Or a commitment to certain rights and liberties? Emily Parker and Franklin Foer debate the meaning of democracy.

  • The Power of Clickbait

    Franklin Foer and Jeff Jarvis discuss Cecil the lion, Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and the power of clickbait.

  • Declining Democracy

    In his closing argument, Franklin Foer warns that democracy is declining like never before.

Debate Details

By connecting people across the world for free, platforms like Twitter and Facebook set the stage for a promising digital revolution, providing tools that helped foster global friendships, break down long-standing barriers that kept people and ideas from being heard, and served as the ultimate democratizing force for information. Now, lawmakers in the U.S. and beyond are reeling with questions of how to prevent the spread of digital political propaganda and protect citizens’ personal privacy online. Critics argue that rather than uniting and informing, social media deepens social and political divisions and erodes trust in the democratic process. Will the power of social media yet be harnessed and used as an unprecedented force for good in the world? Or do systemic platform flaws pose an irreversible threat to the world’s democratic institutions?  

 

The Debaters

For the motion

Jeff Jarvis

Director, Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism

Jeff Jarvis is a national leader in the development of online news, blogging, and the investigation of new business models for news. He is director... Read More

Emily Parker

Emily Parker

Digital Diplomacy Adviser & Former State Department Official

Emily Parker is the author of “Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices From the Internet Underground,” which tells the stories of internet activists... Read More

Against the motion

Franklin Foer

Franklin Foer

Staff Writer, The Atlantic

Franklin Foer is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic. He is the author of “World Without Mind: The Existential... Read More

Roger McNamee

Roger McNamee

Investor & Venture Capitalist

Roger McNamee has spent 35 years investing in the technology industry. He is a co-founder of three firms: Integral Capital Partners, Silver Lake Partners... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • From Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March to local and national political campaigns, social media is the driving force behind political organizing today and thus serves as a buttress for modern democracy. 
  • Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube democratize information by allowing all citizens an unprecedented opportunity to have their voices heard and to hold the powerful accountable, free from censorship by government or traditional media gatekeepers. 
  • Propaganda, bullying, and harassment are hardly new phenomenons and are not unique to social media. These platforms should not be maligned for the bad behavior of some users. 
Against The Motion
  • Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have created a toxic online culture that degrades public discourse and promotes ideological echo chambers that increase partisanship and hostility between those with opposing political or social views.
  • Social media provides unprecedented opportunities for bad actors, including hostile foreign governments, to undermine democratic elections through propaganda and disinformation campaigns intended to undermine political candidates or faith in democratic institutions as a whole.
  • Whereas traditional media outlets have served as guardians of democracy by safeguarding fact and truth in public discourse, social media outlets allow for the widespread dissemination of false, divisive, and often destructive information. 

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The Research

The Research

This explains how social media can both weaken — and strengthen — democracy.

Joshua Tucker, Yannis Theocharis, Margaret E. Roberts and Pablo Barberá
December 6, 2017

“First, social media is a tool for giving voice to those excluded from access to the mainstream media. Second, despite the fact that social-media democratizes access to information, those using it can simultaneously censor and manipulate information to try to silence others’ voices.”

Facebook is now a vital part of our democracy

Jakob Ohme
April 12, 2018

“Social network sites are also an important space for political discussions and movements such as #MeToo or #MarchForOurLives.”

Once considered a boon to democracy, social media have started to look like its nemesis

November 4, 2017

“The more people use their addictive-by-design social media, the more attention social-media companies can sell to advertisers—and the more data about the users’ behaviour they can collect for themselves.”

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