Three Core Problems
At the heart of the challenges to democracy posed by digital media are three core problems:
Platform monopolies: two or three corporations control not only our means of communication, but also the content which is distributed both of which are core aspects of our democracy, whilst the market power and global mobility of these companies make it possible for them to avoid national regulatory measures either by moving operations elsewhere or simply ignoring them;
Algorithmic opacity: algorithmic engines are using huge quantities of personal data to make ever more precise predictions about what we want to see and hear, and having ever increasing influence over what we think and do, with little transparency about how they work or accountability for their impact; and
Attention economy: the dominant business model of digital media prioritises the amplification of whatever content is best at grabbing our attention, while avoiding responsibility for the impact that content has on our collective wellbeing and our democracy. And the negative impact is brutally clear from both the literature and the world around us.
Combined, these problems pose serious threats to our democracy, so it’s critical that our responses to them don’t further undermine our democratic institutions. The history of digital media has shown that good intentions can, if not informed by the diverse experiences of users and the research evidence, cause more harm.