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MANILA, Philippines – Thirty years after the invention of the internet, are we now living in a more democratic world?
Andrew Keen, US-based author and prominent commentator on the digital revolution, asked the audience this question during his keynote speech at the 2019 Social Good Summit: #2030Now #InsightforImpact at the De La Salle University in Manila on September 21.
When the internet was still in beta in the 1990s, Keen said digital technology showed a lot of potential to democratize society. Everybody would benefit because it’s free, and that it would create a level-playing field for everybody to enjoy. Keen was an “internet entrepreneur” during that time, or something equivalent to a startup founder in today’s terms.
But 3 decades after, Keen said the world looks like it’s entering a “new dark age.” Keen cited the new “forces of disinformation” in the age of digital revolution, which have armed “neo-authoritarian” administrations all over the world. (READ: Exclusive: PH was Cambridge Analytica’s ‘petri dish’ – whistle-blower Christopher Wylie)
“The great tragedy of the internet, the digital revolution, is for all its enlightenment potential, it’s resulting in a new dark age. It’s no coincidence this digital revolution is going hand in hand with democratic recession,” Keen said.
The irony of the digital revolution
The creation of the World Wide Web promised that free-for-all knowledge and information will be better for the world – that it would eliminate parochialism and instead internationalize democracy.
But Keen said it has only resulted in the opposite. Today, digital platforms have nurtured an echo chamber culture instead of cultivating different ideas, and only a handful of big tech companies profit from this free-economy model.
“The ironic consequence of the digital revolution is it’s making us more local, more parochial. The irony of the digital revolution is it has gone hand in hand with an increasing intolerance towards others,” Keen said.
By empowering people with anonymity and letting the big tech companies enjoy most of the benefits, Keen said the digital world has turned into a horrible machinery of propagandists worldwide.
“Today we’re confronted with a real crisis of democracy,” Keen said. “This is no coincidence that this current crisis in democracy has gone hand in hand with the digitalization of society.”
Fortunately, Keen also came prepared with solutions.
In solving the contemporary problems of democracy all over the world, Keen suggests to call for big tech companies’ transparency, reinvent democracy using analog methods, and do away with anonymity.
“The biggest scarcity of the digital revolution is not data, but trust,” Keen said. He explained that while the internet has allowed people to share as much as they want online, it also created a place for disinformation to prosper.
“We need to harness, control, and civilize the digital revolution,” Keen said. – Rappler.com