The Economist published an article titled “Policing Propaganda” on November 28th, 2019. Its persuasive nature aims to convince the reader that “lawmakers, not tech bosses, should regulate digital politics”. Admitting to the difficulty of the task while arguing it must be done, the article makes it clear that it is something that must be done and must be done quickly before digital politics become an even bigger mess.
The Economist article often makes reference to a New York Times article concerning the invention of the telegraph. Mention of this article serves as an illustration that technology has made it so now the government can be held accountable at all times as information can be shared everywhere. The Netflix documentary “The Great Hack” similarly brings this issue into light by demonstrating the ongoing case of the consequences when technology plays an invasive role in politics today. After what seems to be a violation of the American presidential election of 2016 and the Brexit vote in the UK of 2015, the extent of which technology can play in politics is being questioned. For a long time, it was left to the creators of such technologies and platforms to define their own rules and decide how it is to be integrated into society; however, this article brings to light the importance of giving that power to the governments and letting them define the boundaries properly. Self-governance by technology companies could have been a viable option, but based on the technology company’s track records, they have lost credibility and trust.
To what extent should governments extend their power? How far can politicians go before it is defined as too far? What roles does technology play in governments and politics today? As technology grows, politics has been struggling to catch up; what qualifies as fair play can now be the basis of a very dangerous game.
I agree that action should be taken to define this, however, it would be foolish to assume that a trail would fix everything, that new laws would fix everything, and that the government has all the right answers. In the book “American Democracy? What Went Wrong and How to Fix It” By Gilens and Page, the interesting ‘Elite Theory’ is brought up concerning who in society actually plays part in policymaking. This theory correlates to this scenario where lawmakers are “influenced” by people of higher socioeconomic status to create policies that favor them due to their monetary involvement/support. Tech bosses are quite rich, they possess a lot of the money in the U.S. and therefore have the requirements to make change happen. Though there is no proof of such influence, it is very likely that those at Cambridge Analytica or similar companies have had lobbyists of the sort to ensure that nothing was interfering with their work.
However, at the end of the day tech bosses don’t have control over what clients do with their products and are not to blame entirely for what has occurred. An abuse of technological power is not at their particular fault but at the fault of those who abused it and those lawmakers who let themselves be abused. Lawmakers could have intervened with strict regulation earlier into the process of dependence on technology to prevent abuses of digital technology. As Levitsky and Ziblatt stated in their book “How Democracies Die”, the only way a democracy can prevail and succeed is with fair elections, and technologies such as these are what prevent that from occurring and create a biased nature in the voting citizens and the government itself.
How are people supposed to trust a government once they learn it has been tampered with? It is through actions such as these that people lose faith in democracy and turn towards different governments such as authoritarianism because of their lack of faith in the system. Foa and Munk explain democratic deconsolidation occurring in the U.S. right now; their “promise” of democracy is being lost especially in younger generations. If the system failed them once, who is to say they won’t do it again? The citizens were “micro-targeted”, their privacy breached, their fundamental rights violated. Unless a satisfactory resolution is reached the damage this has caused to the image of democracy might be irreparable.
It’s getting harder and harder to keep track and hold people accountable during elections, especially when tampering has become so simple and attainable. One can only hope that the laws are enough and that political parties, with their own gatekeeping, choose candidates that strive to have a transparent government and uphold the norms set in place by society.
It shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the government to take action and fix this, nor should it be the sole responsibility of tech bosses, they should work together to create the perfect solution and meet every now and then because as technology advances, so must the laws. Technology can only do so much to prevent tampering, that is just a fact, loopholes will always be found and there is no way to avoid them completely.
*Photo by Markus Spike, (Unsplash), Creative Commons Zero license.