Carole Cadwalladr’s Ted Talk Delusion About Social Media And Democracy


Carole Cadwalladr has been banging on for a year now about how Facebook – with useful assists from Twitter and other social media firms – has been gutting our democracy. The problem is that there’s a basic delusion at the centre of the argument itself. Democracy isn’t what Cadwalladr seems to think it is, some method of getting to an answer she approves of. Rather, it’s the inchoate mass of us, the Demos, deciding what we’d like to happen.

This this Ted talk goes rather off piste:

The problem being, from her accompanying article, this:

I did tell them that they had facilitated multiple crimes in the EU referendum. That as things stood, I didn’t think it was possible to have free and fair elections ever again. That liberal democracy was broken. And they had broke it.

Consider what her central contention is. That a political party is able to advertise only to those who might change their minds breaks democracy.

That is indeed her central contention. All the rest of it is wibble. That one party or side spent 1% over the permissible budget, or that some Russian dropped £10,000 into the conversation, these don’t break democracy. Nor even does the idea that the 1% overspend was a result of following the strictures and advice of the Electoral Commission.

No, the horror is that those predisposed to maybe vote fascist can be sent ads asking them to perhaps vote fascist. So too Leave, Remain, socialist, Green and all the other possible variations. Political advertising has become more efficient, that’s what she’s complaining about. And democracy just isn’t such a fragile flower that it will be broken by that.

If it were then we’d have to ban political advertising through any specific channel. Like, you know, an ad that runs in the Observer and is aimed at persuading soft left voters to do something. An ad different from that which runs in the Telegraph asking crustier conservatives to do something else.

This is the real problem with Cadwalladr’s contention. Forget all the – many – errors in her assertions and all that. Just consider the central contention. Being able to advertise to subgroups of voters breaks democracy. It’s a delusion, isn’t it?