Social media and democracy: A force moving beyond control

Back in the day, when a public figure could make a suggestion without filtering it through rigorous sensibilities, Theodore Roosevelt, speaking about diplomacy offered: “If you’ve got them by the, em, manhood, their hearts and minds will follow.”

He did not use the word “manhood” but if he were alive and felt the need to offer advice today he might suggest grabbing “them” through their social media portals.

Yesterday, Fine Gael’s director of EU elections Regina Doherty, warned media giants must do more to stop fake news.

She also conceded governments must enact better regulation — but that suggests a parity between social media empires and national governments that may no longer exist.

Hours before that optimistic intervention, the government in Sri Lanka, trying to contain the religion-driven violence that has left more than 200 people dead, blocked social media networks.

They recognised how power has shifted almost beyond democratic control.

As these malign, as yet unknowable forces — unless you’re the Facebook employee who cashes the cheques — are in play in the EU elections, journalist Carole Cadwalladr’s TED talk on how Facebook is undermining democracy and was so darkly influential in the Brexit vote seems mandatory.

She describes a world so orchestrated, puppet masters so off-radar, that it is nothing short of chilling. In the world she relates, Orwell’s Big Brother seems a harmless amateur.

More on this topic

There is a lot of negativity about but here's some life hacks to help stay positive

Criticism for BAI's plan to regulate online content and social media

Broadcasting watchdog rejects criticism of plans to police online content

BAI publishes plan for regulating harmful content on social media

More in this Section

Donohoe pulled in two directions as he seeks to regain prudent reputation

Unanswered questions in Garda sick cert case

Boris’s boyhood dream may yet become Britain’s nightmare

G20 environment plan laudable but will be too little too late


Orla O’Regan: ‘I treasure the way my life has turned out’

More From The Irish Examiner