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Social Media & Our Democracy

John Donvan
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

It’s our doubleheader in the mountains! Beginning tonight, we’re part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, in Aspen Colorado, where we are putting on not one, but TWO debates, all in the space of three days!

First up, a topic that’s going to resonate with anyone who votes, anyone who uses Facebook or Twitter, or anyone even vaguely tuned in to the current raw quality of our political discourse (and I’m guessing that’s you on at least two out of three counts).

Here’s the resolution:

Social Media Is Good For Democracy

Well, is it? Two of our debaters adamantly think not! Franklin Foer is author of “World Without Mind,” a much talked-about book that paints a dire picture of how the concentrated power of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook is turning the rest of us into what he has called “a pile of algorithms.” His partner, the musician and venture capitalist Roger McNamee, was an early investor in Facebook, and a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, but he’s now one of the leading voices sounding the alarm about the platform’s “toxic” role in spreading fake news – the kind that is authentically fake (to coin an oxymoron). For these debaters, current trends are creating a body politic that is misinformed and disempowered, the opposite of what a healthy democracy needs.

But then we have – on the other side – Emily Parker and Jeff Jarvis, who don’t just brush off these problems, but who see enough silver linings to keep them solidly on the side of the optimists. Parker is a writer who has also had careers in government and Silicon Valley, and who credits social media as truly empowering the otherwise voiceless in oppressive regimes (e.g. China, Russia, Cuba). Jarvis is a media entrepreneur and academic who has long argued that fears about technology are overblown, that social media is a set of tools – and a handy set at that – whose deployment depends more than anything on human nature.

We’ll be livestreaming at 5:30MDT / 7:30EDT. And Thursday, we’ll be taking a new look at globalization and the American worker with two veterans of the Obama administration going head-to-head. But more on that next time!

Yours truly,

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