Democracy, Technology, and Human Irresponsibility

Democracy, Technology, and Human Irresponsibility

Ikbal Maulana (Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Indonesia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1791-8.ch001


With the current development of information and communication technology, it must be a good time for democracy. Democracy depends on deliberation and good information. Most people of modern society are ubiquitously connected to the Internet through their smartphones, they can anytime engage in public discourse, express their views without the help of any representative, or search information to make a good decision. The technology is supposed to make people more connected with each other and more knowledgeable than their predecessors. However, rather than raising the quality of democracy, the same technology is now considered to have threatened democracy. The technology makes it easy for irresponsible people to spread disinformation and hate speech. And the technology also makes people unable to deal with the abundant irresponsible information. To mitigate the problem, it is necessary for social media platform to be able to trace the true identities of its users, just like what has already been done in ecommerce or “sharing economy” platforms.
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Irony of current technological development is that information technology is used not only to inform, but increasingly to misinform. Internet allows people to find and know each other, and social media allows them to easily connect with each other (Kumar & Nanda, 2019a). But, as politicians make social media as the battleground for spreading their political ideas and agenda, its users begin to lose their innocence. They become active political citizens and are no longer remain the passive observers, who are waiting for the voting day to take influential action. But, in many cases, rather than being critical toward elites, forcing the latter to serve them better, most social media users let themselves being led by political actors who exploit their sentiment and prejudices. Consequently, they adopt hostile attitudes toward social groups having opposing views. Particularly during political contestation, having access to any information does not make them wiser. They let themselves be overwhelmed by prejudiced information (Maulana, 2018a).

Most often social media becomes an “echo chamber” where social groups of like-minded people get together and strengthen their prejudices against other social groups, thus increases polarization (Tufekci, 2017). Political polarization is easily recognizable on social media and it has threatened democracies all around the world, not only in new democratic countries but also in long established ones (Carothers & O’Donohue, 2019). Social media has been suspected to drive the polarization. “Social media, it seems, amp up moral and emotional messages while organizing people into digital communities based on tribal conflicts” (De-Wit et al., 2019). But, the impact, as shown by some studies may be subtler than people might think. Social media is suspected to cause polarization because it puts users in “echo chambers” that expose them only to the ideas they already agree with. However, a study in the US on self-identified Republicans and Democrats shows that exposing people to opposing views on social media can increase polarization as well (Bail et al., 2018). Social media is also suspected to make “Indonesians perceive that polarisation is potentially greater than it really is—and politicians are encouraging that perception” (Tapsell, 2019). Social media may distort their sense of reality that it is worse than it really is.

Democracy on the other hand is supposed to be qualitatively improved, if the public have better access to political information and opportunities to give feedback. The Internet gives them almost any information they need to know. With the information searching and communication opportunities enabled by the information and communication technology (ICT), public decision making should be more participative, inclusive and argumentative. Despite the many discouraging news about the spread of hate speeches and fake news through social media, successful utilizations of ICT for the improvement of democracy have been made in some parts of the world. For example, in Taiwan, a platform called vTaiwan was established to facilitate the conflicting parties to deliberate contentious issues and draft statements about how matter should be solved. Using this platform, they have been successful in solving the conflict between the ride-hailing service and traditional taxi industry by finding consensus that are accepted by all parties (Miller, 2019). Some platforms that facilitate participative decision making have been made. One of them is, which is used for vTaiwan.

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