Social media shreds the social fabric one click at a time

Sadly, over the past two years, it has gradually become apparent that internet may pose a bigger threat to democracies than to dictators. For one thing, the growth of network platforms with unprecedented data-gathering capabilities has created new opportunities for authoritarian regimes, not least in China and Russia, to control their own populations more effectively.

For another, the networks themselves offer ways in which bad actors – and not only the Russian government – can undermine democracy by disseminating fake news and extreme views. “These social platforms are all invented by very liberal people on the west and east coasts,” said Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital-media director, in an interview last year. “And we figure out how to use it to push conservative values. I don’t think they thought that would ever happen.” Too right…

Yet the most alarming revelation of the past year is not the importance of Russian fake news, but its unimportance. Former president Barack Obama implicitly acknowledged that in his recent Netflix interview with David Letterman. Having swept into the White House in 2008 as the first candidate of the social media age, Obama acknowledged that he had “missed … the degree to which people who are in power, special interests, foreign governments, et cetera, can in fact manipulate [social media] and propagandize.”