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Can Democracy Survive the Internet?

Can Democracy Survive the Internet?

Nate Persily, James B. McClatchy Professor of Law, Stanford Law School 

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The 2016 election exposed the ways in which social media platforms could be exploited to shape political
discourse. The Internet, once lauded for empowering citizens, now is regarded as a tool for spreading
propaganda, fake news, and misinformation at lightning speeds. This shift, along with the successful use
of new media by the winning campaign, broke the established norms of political campaigning. Yet Donald
Trump’s success was not purely a result of breaking these norms; it was also a result of the decline of
legacy institutions such as political parties and traditional media which had previously set the agenda for
campaign discourse. As a result, populist nationalism, empowered by the Internet, rushed to fill the void
left by these crumbling institutions. The anti-establishment and democratizing potential of the Internet was
harnessed by various actors, including foreign governments, to polarize Americans and undermine
democracy.

Nathaniel Persily, Stanford Professor of Law, examines how the Trump campaign’s digital innovations
challenged already weakened legacy institutions in his article, “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?”.
Persily explores the new challenges that democracy faces in the digital age as the combination of virality
and anonymity normalize misinformation. Persily also considers the challenges Internet platforms face as
they navigate their roles as the new intermediary institutions for political discourse.

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