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Living in a digitally-induced dystopia

Ian Bremmer

The web, social media and the ‘big data’ revolution is undermining western democracy while strengthening the hand of authoritarian states to address the challenges thrown up by globalisation. That is the contention of leading US political scientist Ian Bremmer, author of Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism. Contributor Ian Bremmer, Founder and President –  Eurasia Group.

My definition of a dystopia is a country or an environment where citizens get their news as determined and filtered by the world’s largest advertising company. That does not help a liberal democracy. In fact, the entire business model of Facebook undermines liberal democracy”.

Understandably those most directly impacted by social inequality and change – especially young people worried about the future they will be able to make or inherit – increasingly question the certain certainties of liberal democracy and its institutions. Bremmer notes, “Let’s also keep in mind that when you take surveys of young people in the United States and in Europe they’re less convinced that they live in democracy.”

Perhaps more significantly, models of civil governance employed elsewhere look better in comparison to the inequalities thrown up in liberal democratic societies. “Technology is allowing authoritarian governments to exert a lot more control and facilitate more stability.” Interviewed* for his new book Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism Bremmer argues that this democratic versus authoritarian disparity is deepened by the algorithms used by the likes of Facebook Google and YouTube – since they drive user-engagement by creating echo-chambers that polarise western societies and diminish their ability to tackle problems.

“Look at Facebook, YouTube or Google and you realise that in order to get people to spend more time on their sites they can get people to ‘like’ things more and more, they create these ‘filter bubbles’. That really undermines civic nationalism and creates more extremism and more tribalised – [elsewhere] in China the role of technology is actually to bolster civic nationalism, using technology to shape a more acceptable conversation that is government-sanctioned and what everyone is supposed to be talking about.

With inequality rising and social contracts breaking as well as AI turbo-charging fragmentation by undermining the availability already scarce jobs-for-life along with the teleology of middle-class aspiration generally, (Facebook, You Tube and Google) filter bubbles further compound, and exacerbate these possibly existential threats to the utility and endorsement of our ‘shared’ liberal democratic systems and values. Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism is by Ian Bremmer and published by Portfolio.

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