For the longest time, we thought that as speech became more democratized, democracy itself would flourish. But in 2018, it is increasingly clear that more speech can in fact threaten democracy.
But in the digital age, when speech can exist mostly unfettered, the big threat to truth looks very different. It’s not just censorship, but an avalanche of undistinguished speech—some true, some false, some fake, some important, some trivial, much of it out-of-context, all burying us.
Perhaps unlimited, unfettered access to information is not always a positive.
For the longest time, we thought that as speech became more democratized, democracy itself would flourish. As more and more people could broadcast their words and opinions, there would be an ever-fiercer battle of ideas—with truth emerging as the winner, stronger from the fight. But in 2018, it is increasingly clear that more speech can in fact threaten democracy. The glut of information we now face, made possible by digital tools and social media platforms, can bury what is true, greatly elevate and amplify misinformation and distract from what is important.
In the end, we deal with this by trusting individuals in our circle of friends, and express exhaustion or mental fatigue elsewhere.
Perhaps we need new tools to help users as they search and synthesize these texts, tools, and spaces.
How can we get back to that common ground? We need new mechanisms—suited to the digital age—that allow for a shared understanding of facts and that focus our collective attention on the most important problems.