Is Social Media Killing Democracy? Computational Propaganda, Algorithms, Automation and Public Life

Social media first played a significant role in electoral politics during the US presidential election in 2000. The first part of this inaugural lecture traces its development since then, through the Arab Spring, to more recent US and European elections, with some interesting insights into ‘computational propaganda’, the role of bots in moving and reinforcing public opinion, and the fake (or junk) news which is often its subject.

The second part of the lecture turns to the rapidly developing connections between big data, behaviour, and the internet of things. It is increasingly possible to derive political inferences from behaviour, such as purchasing patterns, as well as from overt speech – in the internet we have, privacy has essentially been lost. That could be countered, at least in part, by measures to improve the power balance between large organisations and civic society, but there is little current prospect of those proposed getting any traction.

Philip Howard – Oxford Internet Institute

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