The ongoing controversy that #Russia hacked the presidential campaign won by Donald Trump President-elect Donald Trump has obscured another aspect of this campaign which will deeply alter the concept of Democracy well into the future. In many ways it was the first true international election and the social media played a role that will keep sociologists busy for a long time to come. #Facebook and Twitter took the debates raging in The United States onto the world stage and allowed international readership to participate in every stage of the campaign.

Political battlefields

As a student of History I have followed politics since I was at school, it is one of the fundamental building blocks that create, change and potentially destroy cultures.

Advertisements
Advertisements

Election campaigns in particular show the changes within society over time as they reflect the worries and the lives of any given society. When I was young the Vietnam War was a shadow over my future as there was the real risk that I would be called up and eventually serve in that controversial conflict. Therefore it was a part of election campaigns in Australia, my country of birth, just as much as it was in the United States.

In the same manner debates about women’s rights, abortion, euthanasia and every aspect of everyday life become part of the election cycle, some in the short term and others possibly for generations. The central themes change, but the election campaigns allow people to have their say in public rallies, letters to the editor in the newspapers and ultimately in the polling booth where they vote for the candidates whose agenda reflect their worries and hopes in the future.

Advertisements

The technological communication revolution that began with radio, continued with television and then gave us the social media on the web now gives us all the opportunity to have our voices heard in real time on matters and issues in other countries. The presence of sites and pages of major newspapers and television programmes supply platforms to express worries, admiration, praise and condemnation for any candidate, or issue of interest.

Virtual soapboxes

In this way anyone can go on the net and leave a post, reply to another and take part in an international conversation. On paper this should be a sign of a modern and developing global democracy, yet amongst the billions of words typed out on keyboards in every country there have also been extreme examples of ignorance and hatred that show that some aspects of basic human nature never change.

Recently deceased Italian academic Umberto Eco, author of the novel “The name of the rose”, stated two years ago that the internet had given voice to “an invasion of idiots” and any fair minded person over the last year of the presidential campaign would have found ample proof of this by supporters of all sides of the debate.

Advertisements

This situation was made worse by the presence of trolls, some clearly paid to do so, that took obvious delight in disrupting peaceful exchanges which often become verbally violent and to spread deliberately false and defamatory news.

The other negative aspect of the phenomenon is of course the issue of false news that was exacerbated by the allegations of Russian hacking the news over Russia's reported hack of the campaign. All these factors point out that with the freedom of expression possible on the web that there are also those who will use any means necessary, legal and illegal, moral and unethical to ensure the victory of any chosen candidate. This of course is one of the main reasons for the protests against the election of Donald Trump.

The international interest in such issues means that the political authorities in the democracies must ensure that these virtual soapboxes, such as Facebook, remain a source of healthy debate and not another battlefield of international politics. These issues must be faced because of they are not then what is at stake is the safety of Democracy. The price for inaction would be too high. #Donald Trump