- The digital age exposes the vulnerabilities of democracy
By: Parkha Durrani
Will democracy survive the digital age?
These words explain the perspective of survival of democracy in the age of digitalization.
Democracy is viewed as the best possible form of government globally. It has a just electing system where everyone has an equal vote and every opinion matter. However, voters need all the information before making a decision to select the best candidate in an election; like a patient needs all the information about all the medicines available to fight a disease to choose the most effective treatment. Right to information is a pre-requisite to democracy all around the world. Information about government and public funds belongs to the citizens under Article 19A of the Constitution of Pakistan as a fundamental right.
The only problem is a flood of misinformation in the digital age which is being advertised to citizens through the social media. It is more accessible to them as an average person would check social media everyday but, wouldn’t research about government and public funds information, probably in his lifetime. It also gives social media the advantage of showing selective information to users or to release information at a time when it can make the popular political opinion deviate.
The debate over the power of social media to control democracy, by internal or external elements, came into the international discourse in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election. The findings of the Robert Mueller Report, submitted to US Congress, presented conclusive proof of Russian involvement in US elections through false online advertisements and campaigns. It was the undeniable proof that democracies can be controlled by controlling the information. Indirect manipulation of voters through digitally disseminated content robs them of making an informed decision. The absolute control over information nullifies the basic principle of democracy, which is of justice and distribution of power. It makes democracy an illusion being controlled by a single entity or authority having the citizen’s input it choose. Voters may think they are free to choose but, in reality they are being manipulated to make certain choices without them realizing. It is the most sophisticated and modern form of authoritarianism, totalitarianism, colonialism and imperialism or everything anti-democratic.
So how social media is used to change the popular political opinion? According to the investigative journalists, data scientists, political scientists and whistleblowers from the data mining firm that ran the political campaign of the then future US President, Donald Trump; data was collected on around 50 million US voters without consent through their social media accounts. After careful study of the psychological and political inclination of these users, they were targeted with digital content (mostly false) to make their political opinion deviate. The advertised content helped achieve the desired results and Trump ended up winning the elections.
Consider Pakistan further, as it aims to digitalize by 2020, how will it ensure the protection of data when there will be no policy on protection, or about a situation where massive data is leaked, or any hijack of plane or train, or cyber terror attacks by non-state actors
What would be the future of democracy in a world where it is not only possible to control who people vote for, but winning an election is now a scalable solution available for purchase. Has technology become a superstructure that, from now on, will dictate democracy, economy, society and everything else? Is it possible to break the monopoly of tech giants in a world where people are addicted to social media and prefer customized online advertisements and services at the cost of privacy intrusion? Will you or I stop using social media or at the least express unease or even rage over user data leaks, online misinformation and unchecked political advertisements?
Have realistic expectations,
- Considering at International level, if the politicians can really enter an argument with the tech giants from a position of power as technology as now a superstructure dictating political system.
- Ensuring the amalgamation, if technological courses and people with social sciences to have wholesome policies. As policy makers are not technical people how will they make sure that Tech giants are not doublecrossing them?
- Offering technology companies, compensation in the form of subscription fees or some other mechanism in exchange for them to stop data mining and micro-targeting the user with advertisements, as the people are highly dependent upon social media despite cyber security risks.
- Have a safety-first mechanism while digitizing state administration and civil services.
The case of Cambridge Analytica showed that even a superpower like the USA can be dodged by the evil of technology, so consider the situation of developing and under developing states and how vulnerable they are in terms of such soft power and how this will result in lethality. Consider Pakistan further, as it aims to digitalize by 2020, how will it ensure the protection of data when there will be no policy on protection, or about a situation where massive data is leaked, or any hijack of plane or train, or cyber terror attacks by non-state actors. Choose which country is trustworthy to take guidance from in cyber security matters. That will not cause future compromises in the system.