For democracies to flourish and succeed, voters need accurate information on which to base their decisions; to weigh up the relative merits of proposed policy A over proposed policy B, to judge whether this candidate is more trustworthy or reliable than that one, or that these promises are more likely to be kept than those.
But recent elections, most notably that of Donald Trump as US president, have highlighted the dangers to this process posed by those using social media and the internet to spread malevolent propaganda and fake news.
In the alternative cyber-reality they’ve constructed, fiction suddenly becomes fact, lies become accepted truths, partisanship is entrenched and consensus about the real size of the budget deficit or the number of immigrants coming into the country or even whether a foreign power is a dangerous threat, becomes almost impossible to achieve.
So how and why have we arrived at this point? How is it that platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have become, at the same time, so powerful and yet so apparently wide open to abuse and manipulation?
How, in other words, is social media being used to undermine the core principles of representative governance? In a two-part People & Power special report, Bob Abeshouse investigates.
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