September 4, 2022 | CBS

Internet and democracy: a ‘tenuous’ and ‘fraught’ relationship

ISD US Senior Research Manager Jared Holt was interviewed by CBS’s Face the Nation. Alongside Karen Kornbluh from the German Marshall Fund, Jared spoke of the role the internet plays as an “accelator and a multiplier” of conspiratorial, extremist material.

“The internet is monetised through attention. You can get a lot of attention saying crazy stuff and we’ve seen a lot of people do that,” Jared said.

When asked about the relationship between the internet and democracy both guests described it as “fraught” and “tenuous”.

“As long as the business model of the internet is built around trying to captivate audiences and keep them clicking, reacting, whether that’s through rage or diehard support. It’s going to be in conflict with democracy, because democracy is not about what gets the most attention. It’s supposed to be about, you know, what the best ideas are, how do we compromise? How do we move forward? In this attention-based economy online, is incongruent with that mission,” he said.

Jared also explained how online platforms are giving “a free pass to people who are using these platforms to manipulate audiences. […] These platforms are designed to guide people towards more extreme content.”

Another issue being content that doesn’t necessarily cross the “red-line” to warrant removal but instead “walks right up to that line, that sort of tiptoes on that line. [This type of content] is among the highest performing on these websites,” and anyone can fall for it, he said.

“The kind of stuff that we’re talking about today, whether it’s misinformation, conspiracy theories, etc. Everybody is vulnerable to this. Rich people, poor people, smart people, not so smart people, everybody can fall victim to this stuff. And it has to do with the manipulative nature of the content. And I just think it’s really important to stress that.”

A full transcript of the interview is available here.