Communication technologies are an integral part of the realities of the modern age, where every aspect of human existence is directly impacted by digital forces. It is evident that all manifestations of such technologies, such as social media, the internet, and other online communication tools, has brought a wide range of positive changes, but one should not overlook the potential and existing ramifications, which can be found in a large set of critical problems. Despite these major alterations of modernity, communications technologies do not bring a new age of democracy but rather a new format of human existence, where the latter statement is true alongside a new age of totalitarianism.
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The current literature on the influence of new communications technology on democracy presents an array of different perspectives. In other words, there is a compelling evidence that both positive and negative elements exist in regards to societal alterations. One research suggests that there is “evidence of a strong, positive correlation between Facebook penetration (a proxy for social media) and democracy” (Kumar and Kodila-Tedikab 271). Thus, social media exerts a certain positive force in regards to making some nations more democratic since it provides a platform and space for free information exchange, which is mostly independent of the state-controlled mass media in autocratic governments. Another study states that although such technologies make the political discussion more inclusive, “platforms themselves are neither inherently democratic nor nondemocratic, but represent a tool political actors can use for a variety of goals, including, paradoxically, illiberal goals” (Tucker et al. 46). Therefore, one can argue that communications technologies are mere instruments, which enable more instances of positive change, but they are not inherently designed to promote democracy.
A wide range of experts and professionals both defend and raise concerns in regards to new age communications technology and its impact on democratic institutions. It is stated that the specified technologies expand the existing dynamics of social interactions towards a more globalized format, where economy and balance of power gradually shifts from nations to global scale (Held et al. 205). For example, Hillary Clinton and her team claimed that Iranian protests were driven by the internet, and thus, the technology promotes democracy, but in other instances, the politician raised awareness of the potential dangers of these instruments (Morozov 18). In other words, one can evidently observe the fact that communications technologies are mere enablers of already established social dynamics, where democratic institutions can reach more people, and totalitarian regimes can spread misinformation more effectively.
The massive spread of the Internet marked the emergence of a new, special form of information space. A number of social and political movements have recently used it as a tool to mobilize the masses and put pressure on the authorities. The advantages of the Internet are mobility, speed of information flow, absence of geographical and time boundaries. This led to the fact that both politicians and the active part of the civilian population began to view the network as a way to revive democratic politics. In this case, their interest is based on two expectations. Public figures expect to use information and communication technologies on the Internet to attract citizens into public politics. For the citizens themselves, communication technologies create an opportunity to gain knowledge about civic affairs and social practices, as well as effectively communicate with representatives of government structures, guided not only by their own needs but also by informed points of view.
It is known that new information and communication technologies affect all spheres of life in modern society, but in communication technologies, one can see the potential for improving democracy. Changes in modern society have given rise to a complex of reasons that destabilize the traditional systems of political communication. This is an increase in socio-cultural heterogeneity and the influence that communication technologies have on the actors of political communication. There is a growth of mass media along with changes in the formats of mass media production, vagueness, and confusion of genres, blurring of boundaries between journalism and what it is not. A growing number of political jurists and political mediators, including political communication specialists, who sometimes play a more persuasive role than journalists. The geography of political communication is changing as a symbol of the weakening of traditional national borders.
Democracy implies that the entire adult population must be able to participate in politics. To do this, society needs modern state organizations that are capable of solving the problems of democratic governance. This means that citizens or their elected representatives must be able to control the state bureaucracy, military, and large private corporations, whose officials are not accountable to the people. Such power has the ability to defend traditional liberal democratic beliefs, such as guarantees of the proper execution of treaties, as well as the ability to pay attention to informational, social, and economic issues. Otherwise, unelected officials, military leaders, and legal entities will be able to arbitrarily seize information and economic opportunities to influence the governance of the nation.
There a number of major ramifications of communications technologies because it is a mere instrument, which can be used for other means than democracy. One of the most prominent drawbacks of such technologies is the mass-scale spread of false information or “fake news.” Social media platforms and informational freedom lead to the fact that there one cannot properly monitor and control the spread of misinformation, which can lead to dire consequences and even the fall of democracy. Mass communication, information, and disinformation have existed as long as human civilization, but they manifest themselves in different ways in pre-digital.
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Traditional media have vast experience, an established circle of readers, listeners, viewers. However, in the modern culture of connectivity to the global Web, a new everyday life has been formed, in which users are accustomed to receiving information “here and now” with the help of available media such as a mobile phone, tablet, computer, so the number of new media users is steadily growing. Online media and social networks have provided users of the digital age with 24/7 access to their resources from virtually anywhere in the world where there is an Internet connection, allowed consumers to create their own unique content and express alternative views. They are more responsive than traditional media in producing news. Moreover, media editorial offices automatically or manually study their content and can include the most interesting topics on their agenda.
Social media, unlike online media, which are subject to media laws and the rules for disseminating information in their countries, is a less regulated part of the media space, so they often become a platform for disseminating disinformation. The peculiarity of social networks is that they unite people by interests and beliefs, forming networked communities networked publics. The texts of these groups of people are saved and archived and can also be reproduced many times, and there is the possibility of visualizing the content and searching for them using search engines. Each group, as a rule, has its own agenda, values, and heroes. Users can choose their circle of communication, and in this way, they construct a reality that may differ from that which objectively exists or is formed by the media.
Online communities can launch fakes that circulate within the group or launch them for an external audience. In the age of total digitalization, life is increasingly moving to the Web, the problem of monitoring the content of the public and determining the degree of reliability of the information they disseminate arises. This allows researchers to characterize the last few decades as a period of misinformation, in which it is difficult to distinguish facts from fabricated lies. The danger of social media fakes is that they can spread virally and reach huge numbers of people without much control over the content of the information.
In conclusion, the use of information technology, at least in the near future, will not turn society into a society of direct democracy, and it will remain representative. The main reason is that such technologies are mere tools, which can be used to both promote or hinder democracy. However, the establishment of a dialogue between society and the authorities, the availability of power for the people seems to be a significant movement forward, bearing the potential for improving, enriching democracy. The main thing is that the authorities have the political will to realize the opportunities provided by the achievements of technical and informational progress.
Held, David, et al. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Polity Press, 2003.
Kumar Jha, Chandar, and Oasis Kodila-Tedikab. “Does Social Media Promote Democracy? Some Empirical Evidence.” Journal of Policy Modeling, vol. 42, no. 2, 2020, pp. 271-290.
Morozov, Evgeny. The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. PublicAffairs, 2012.
Tucker, Joshua A., et al. “From Liberation to Turmoil: Social Media and Democracy.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 28, no. 4, 2017, pp. 46-59.