Remember the time when it was alleged that the fake news that went viral on Facebook played a large role in the stunning upset that led to Donald Trump’s victory? Pundits around the world speculated that this might be the beginning of the end of democracy. Social media drew, and continues to draw, criticisms from all corners for its part in the subversion of democracy. But wait. Remember the time when the same social media was lauded during the Arab Spring when protesters used Facebook and Twitter to mobilise in large numbers? The pundits had hailed these very platforms as catalysts for ushering democracy in places that had been long ruled by autocrats. So, do social media platforms strengthen democracy or undermine it?
If the Harvard professor Cass Sunstein is to be believed, then the extreme personalisation that today’s social media provides threatens democracy. In his new book titled #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, Sunstein argues that the perfect filtering that platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide is a serious challenge to democratic deliberation and free expression.