Democracy is built on our choices; our choices built on information we have. But what determines what information we get? In this blog post, we look at 3 ways how the information we receive become increasingly one-sided and unreliable.
A lost of faith in experts
Tom Nichols highlights how the population has lost faith in experts, preferring their own ideas and pre-existing beliefs and rejecting anything on the contrary, even if coming from a more knowledgeable source. The threat to democracy he notes is that if the population becomes so stubborn won’t accept new points then can never evolve politically and will be led astray, not considering what knowledgeable people are telling them, so blind-voting etc. “We’re moving toward a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople”. People are so close to information that they feel can they discard expert views.
Guess, Nyhan and Reifler considered the issue of people in “echo chambers” and being subjected to misinformation, focusing specifically on 2016 US election. They find that many people are exposed to fake news. Using unique data combining survey responses with individual-level web track histories, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 4 Americans visited a fake news website from October 7-November 14, 2016. Trump supporters visited the most fake news websites, which were overwhelmingly pro-Trump. However, fake news consumption was heavily concentrated among a small group — almost 6 in 10 visits to fake news websites came from the 10% of people with the most conservative online information diets. Fake news can have the significant effect of reinforcing existing beliefs and misinforming people. “For democracy to work, free and well-informed citizens must actively engage in civic discourse. Digital disinformation is destroying the prospect of democratic engagement by well-informed citizens.”
A tailored online experience narrows our political conception
The way that search engines present results will influence voter opinions. Data collected from our online behaviour generates a tailored experience. However, our tailored experiences mean that we barely share a common reality with people who disagree with us: we see different products, political views and even facts.
Facebook and Google have a monopoly on digital advertisements. They take up almost 80% of all digital advertisement revenues. Fake accounts, likely operated out of Russia, spent about $100,000 on Facebook ads ahead of the 2016 election, yet Facebook hasn’t released the data or sources. Additionally, Donald Trump's team reportedly planted Facebook posts as part of an operation to suppress the African American vote.