Getty Images

The Year Ahead 2018

Making Social Media Safe for Democracy

Social media firms may not be creating the continuing torrent of junk news seen in 2017, but they provide the platforms that have allowed “computational propaganda” to become one of the most powerful tools currently being used to undermine democracy. If democracy is to survive, today’s social media giants will have to redesign themselves.

OXFORD – In the run-up to multiple votes around the world in 2016, including the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote and the United States presidential election, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter systematically served large numbers of voters poor-quality information – indeed, often outright lies – about politics and public policy. Though those companies have been widely criticized, the junk news – sensational stories, conspiracy theories, and other disinformation – flowed on through 2017.

While a growing number of country-specific fact-checking initiatives and some interesting new apps for evaluating junk news have emerged, system-wide, technical solutions do not seem to be on offer from the platforms. So how should we make social media safe for democratic norms?

We know that social media firms are serving up vast amounts of highly polarizing content to citizens during referenda, elections, and military crises around the world. During the 2016 US presidential election, fake news stories were shared on social media more widely than professionally produced ones, and the distribution of junk news hit its highest point the day before the election.

To continue reading, please subscribe to On Point.

To read this article, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free On Point articles as well as two articles from our archive. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in;
  1. man looking at skyline chinese city Yinjia Pan/Getty Images

    The Evolution of Globalization

    Since the turn of the century, globalization has delivered in spades for many emerging and developing economies, but it has alienated many in the developed world. Did an agenda that has promoted economic convergence sow the seeds of its own destruction?

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.