Oct 26

Social Media and Democracy, source: http://www.advance.org/attachments/wysiwyg/8779/SocialMediaDemocracy_Banner.jpg

There is an increasing debate on the democratic potential of social media. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are being recognised as catalysts for pro-democracy protests across the Arab world and Asia. From Tunisia, Egypt, Libya to China, social media has helped democracy activists to organise and mobilise participation of the masses as well as raise a platform for people to voice their opinions. Still, there are wide debates on whether social media and the internet in general are tools for liberation or oppression. Some researchers argue that they are very effective at stirring up revolutions and providing anonymity necessary to challenge authorities, but they are not sufficient to build functioning democracies. Some go further stating that they are aiding dictatorships by using cyberspace for propaganda and open source intelligence. And there are also those who find them nothing special; no different than physical mail – enabling speaking but not listening.

As a whole, there are democratic-thriving aspects of social media such as the greater freedom of expression, widening spaces for public participation and organisation, and exposure of corruption and repression within societies. However empirical evidence on their concrete role in building functioning modern democracies is missing. Building democratic governments demand more than just Blogs, Facebook support groups/pages and Tweets. Until now social media is not sufficient to structure institutions, rules, regulations and procedures that are necessary in a democratic society.  That said it still remains an influential tool in facilitating and fostering democracy.

As the use of social media continues to evolve and mature, how can it be used to translate online activities and initiatives into actions required for building functioning democratic structures on the ground?

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