Last week, Kazys Varnelis, wrote on his Facebook wall, “If you want to understand the mess we are in, read this important article from our Networked Publics book” and posted a link to an essay I published with my co-author Mark E. Kann. In the comment, he also made a remark on how prophetic the essay was, especially with regards to the role of social media in the 2016 US Election.
Kazys’ post forced me to look back and read what we wrote. Eight years ago, in 2008, when writings and scholarship on the internet were still predominantly utopian, we published a chapter with a different tone. We argued that digital media — network technologies — have made political mobilization easy (click like/share/love/ retweet to agree with your friends on Facebook/Twitter, to get access to/share fakenews that justifies/amplifies your belief, to sign petition on change.org, etc.) but they have not been able to promote democratic deliberation. In this environment, simplified/extreme views are easily promoted, making issues such as Brexit a perfect issue and candidates such as Trump a perfect candidate.
“[…] it is misleading to claim that online deliberation and online mobilization practices have really deepened democracy.”