Digital media in politics and society

1. Digital media in politics and society

"Don't know where we're going, but there's no sense being late".

—Quote from the movie Quigley Down Under (1990).

One of the most important challenges societies face today is how to make sense of digital media. Mechanisms, conditions, and opportunities of and for their uses remain unclear. The only thing obvious is that a lot of people have different expectations:

Writing in 1996, the early cyber-activist and lyricist for the Grateful Dead John Perry Barlow declared the promise of digital media:

"We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before."

[Barlow, 1996]

In 2017 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke about the promise of connection through digital media:

"For the past decade, we've focused on making the world more open and connected. We're not done yet and we will continue working to give people a voice and help people connect. But even as we make progress, our society is still divided. So now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more. It's not enough to simply connect the world; we must also work to bring the world closer together."

[Zuckerberg, 2017]

But the mood has turned darker since those days. In 2021, speaking about the supposed role of digital media in spreading doubts about the vaccine against the novel Corona virus, the President of the United States of America Joe Biden declared:

"They're killing people."

[Kanno-Young and Kang, 2021]

And doing some performative thinking about artificial intelligence Tesla CEO Elon Musk mused:

"I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that. (...) With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon."

[McFarland, 2014]

So what is it? Are digital media a blessing or a course? Let's have a look at the ledger.

Clearly, digital media have brought some good. They have opened up discourses for new voices. They have allowed new parties to emerge and compete in elections. They also have allowed societies, organizations, and people to gain new insights and improve.

But clearly, digital media have also brought a lot of bad. They have allowed challengers to diverse and inclusive societies to compete and mount their attack on open societies. They have allowed people to publish and widely distribute false or misleading information about politics, society, and health. They have also opened up discourse to many discriminatory and downright hateful voices whose only goal seems to be to attack and denigrate those with different beliefs.

In short, digital media are neither uniformly good or bad for society or democracy. They are both. So, the question is, how to capitalize on the good digital media bring while mitigating the bad? This lecture series is here to assist you in this task. The goal of this lecture series is to help you to make sense of digital technology - the changes it brings, the opportunities it provides, and the challenges it presents.

Goal

The goal of this lecture series is to help you to make sense of of digital technology - the changes it brings, the opportunities it provides, and the challenges it presents.

In order to do so, we look at some of the biggest controversies about the uses of digital media in politics and society. We look beyond the headlines and see what scientific evidence is available, how this evidence is produced, and what it does tell us about the role of digital media in politics and society. This podcast will introduce you to the best available evidence on ongoing controversies, enable you to ask better questions on the role of digital media in politics and society, and show you the tools that allow you to answer them.

Here are the main topics, we will be talking about:

  • Computational social science,

  • Artificial intelligence and it's impact on politics,

  • Data & algorithms,

  • The challenge to institutions,

  • The public arena, and

  • Discursive power.

Digital media are hear to stay. No matter how much some people might wish, there is no way back to a time and politics before. So, we'd better start figuring out how this works.

Like the man says: "I don't know where we're going, but there's no sense bein' late."

Time to get a map!