Dr. Rose A. Dyson

Toronto – Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

Democratic Freedoms In A Digital Age

 

 

 

In November, 2017, The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, joined other major media in The Trust Project, an international initiative that authenticates stories from project members through such web platforms as Google, Twitter and Facebook.  Its purpose is to provide a correction policy and written standards, and to determine whether an article is news, opinion or advertising.

 

This initiative is an outgrowth of widespread concern over the rise of populism and increasing popularity of autocratic political leadership which has taken on a new and unsettling appeal not anticipated in the early days of the World Wide Web and the Arab Spring.  Social upheaval in democracies unsettled by new media flooded with misinformation deliberately created for political purposes is forcing a re-examination of what it means to live in a healthy, free and democratic society. Rapid change, automation, migration and information overload have given rise to anxiety, fear, and uncertainty.

 

Critics say our love affair with digital is over. Promises to engage the disaffected haven’t worked out as anticipated.  Social media haven’t delivered on “democratization” where power is shared equally.  Instead we have gotten screen rage and recklessness. Manipulation has been intensified, whether it involves tech companies monetizing us for advertisers or political saboteurs spinning us for their own ends.

 

Some argue that new media was never expected to assume the responsibilities of print media.  Laws supervising mainstream media have been established over the years to protect society from those who would spout libel, slander, hate, racism, misogyny and disinformation.  So far, social media have managed to avoid such constraints by arguing that they are not publishers but merely carriers of content.  This position is increasingly untenable as evidence unfolds of how Facebook managed to overlook foreign meddling in recent election campaigns. Millions had their personal data stolen while, at the same time, generating billions of dollars for shareholders.

                                                    

Another dimension to the cacophony is the issue of sexual harassment.  As sectors of society ranging from government and the film industry to migrant farm workers yield reports of abuse and misconduct, calls for change multiply. The power of media has never been sufficiently acknowledged.  Sexual harassment is not the disease but a symptom.  To counter this seeming epidemic we need stories on our screens that stop celebrating and glorifying power differentials between men and women under the guise of art.  Only when we start connecting the dots between the disparate threads of our unraveling cultural environment and demand appropriate policies will we begin to move toward positive social change.

 

 

 





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