Internet and social media: opportunity or threat to democracy?


In January 2019, American sociologist and political scientist Larry Diamond published an article in the Journal of Democracy entitled “The Threat of Postmodern Totalitarianism” in which he warns against threats to democracy from the use of social media.


Democracy is constantly evolving and is with great difficulty trying to adapt to the current times. Social media’s entrance to the world of politics is very recent and in democracies, the harmful effects of social media are stronger because they manifest themselves in an environment that has freedom of expression as the basis of constitutional legitimacy. Online politics are extremely more polarized and violent than offline. People tend to only come in contact with opinions similar to their own, and online, anyone can become publish information or claim to be a journalist. A lot of fake news circulates, and information flows can be manipulated for political and social purposes. In a nutshell, democracy is polluted, if not compromised because of social media.


The internet revolution and social media were possible thanks to the absence of rules, but the future evolution of social media must be disciplined. Democracies must carefully direct and govern the development of the internet moving forward.


Larry Diamond concludes his article by saying, “Democracies must establish for themselves clear human-rights frameworks for the use of artificial intelligence and seek to have these adopted worldwide. […] Increasingly, it is impossible to separate the spheres of online politics and offline politics. Digital rights are human rights, and human rights are digital rights.” Data protection must be the universal human right of the 21st century.


The intertwining of politics, the internet, technological innovation, new media and data protection is a major theme of our time.


Politics has a duty to turn threats into opportunities but to do so, precise rules are necessary. This will be a challenge because making the Internet a safe place and fertile ground for democratic values goes in the opposite direction of where the Web is currently heading. Democracies must learn how to guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental freedoms and rights in the virtual space called the internet.