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The Internet Versus Democracy

In an era of mounting social and political instability in the United States, internet-enabled connectivity is powerfully amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6.

NEW HAVEN – Plenty has been said, and rightfully so, about the violent insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6. Politicians are grappling with issues of legal and moral accountability. But the horrific events also touch on a critical contradiction of modern societies: the internet’s role as an instrument of democracy’s destruction.

It was not supposed to be this way. The internet’s open architecture has long been extolled by cyber-libertarian futurists as a powerful new democratizing force. Information is free and available instantaneously – and anyone can now vote with a mere click.

The rapid expansion of the public square is offered as exhibit A. Internet penetration went from 1% to 87% of the US population from 1990 to 2018, far outstripping the surge in the world as a whole from zero to 51% over the same period. The United States, the world’s oldest democracy, led the charge in embracing new technologies of empowerment.

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