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Social media power and election legitimacy

Tambini, Damian (2018) Social media power and election legitimacy. In: Tambini, Damian and Moore, Martin, (eds.) Digital dominance: the power of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, pp. 265-293. ISBN 9780190845117

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Debate about the Internet and democracy has evolved from starry- eyed hope (Rheingold 1995; Tambini 1998), through critical realism (Zittrain 2008; Howard 2006; Sunstein 2001), to despair (Barocas 2012; Morozov 2011; Kreiss 2012). Recent elections have called into question the promise of the Internet to provide expanding resources for information and deliberation (Tambini 2000). Growing numbers of commentators argue that the Internet agora has been displaced by the monopolized Internet of “surveillance capitalism” in which a small number of immensely powerful platform companies (Zuboff 2015) provide integrated services of targeted propaganda and misinformation undermining campaign fairness by rewarding richer campaigns and those that are increasingly able to bypass existing regulatory frameworks. In recent elections, data- driven campaigns, supported by surveillance technologies that game privacy protection to profile voters and target their weaknesses have been widely criticized. (Barocas 2012; Kreiss 2012, 2016; Howard and Kreiss 2009; Tambini et al. 2017). Some, including Epstein (this volume) go so far as to claim that powerful intermediaries such as Google and Facebook can and do influence the outcome of elections. At the same time, the shock results of votes in the UK referendum and US elections led in 2016 to widespread questioning of the role of social media, which was seen as responsible for distributing fake news (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017; Tambini 2017), using manipulative psychometric profiling (Cadwalladr 2017), and undermining authoritative journalism (Bell, this volume; Allcott and Gentzkow 2017, 211) and ultimately the fairness and transparency of elections. This chapter examines the charge against the social media in recent elections, with a focus on the question of dominance: whether the powerful position of a few platforms in political campaigning— and particularly Facebook— is undermining electoral legitimacy. The focus will be on the UK, which has particularly high levels of online and Facebook use, and the referendum in 2016 and general election in 2017, which offer useful contrasting examples of recent campaigns. This chapter draws on interviews conducted with campaigners on the state of the art in targeted campaigning during the referendum in 2016, and a study of online ads used in the 2017 election conducted in collaboration with the grassroots group Who Targets Me.

Item Type: Book Section
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Additional Information: © 2018 Oxford University Press
Divisions: Media and Communications
Date Deposited: 05 Apr 2018 15:53
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2024 12:11

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