E-democracy turns into a dark counter-revolution

In the 1990s, I was something of a cyber-utopian. I believed the Internet would usher in a new age of participatory democracy in the best sense, and possibly even a new progressive era. I have tracked and written about the evolution of the political Internet since 1994.

Obama’s 2008 victory, fueled by his campaign’s cutting edge use of technology, and the early days of the Arab Spring, reinforced the belief that the ‘net would be a positive force. But since 2013, with the Egyptian crackdown, a reactionary counter-revolution has clearly taken place. And now, with Trump’s election, it seems like oppression will become a dominant force world-wide.

Steven Clift, founder of E-democracy.org, predicted all this back in 2003. “Too bad democracy in the digital age has all gone to hell,” he writes on Medium, and quotes from his 2003 predictions.

The emergence of the alt-right, white nationalists, Trump’s incendiary remarks on Twitter, tribal hyper-partisanship online, fake news, hacking, privacy violations, and deep divisions among Americans, created or exacerbated by social media, have really changed the prognosis for the Internet’s impact on politics from positive to negative.

The Internet has been a disruptive political force since at least the 2000 presidential election, and the candidates with the most innovative online teams have won most campaigns. In 2016, Trump and his supporters successfully used Twitter and other social media to bypass the mainstream media and to post unmediated propaganda.

What can be done? I don’t know except that an online network of people can still seek common ground, model civility and promote good examples of tech use for social benefit and the common good.

And who knows what app will dominate the next election cycle in the way that Twitter dominated this one?

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