On the future of political communication beyond personalization, profiling and populism. Do we need to correct our image of man? Since the enlightenment 250 years ago, man has been regarded as a rational being – capable of freeing himself from his self-inflicted immaturity. In an enlightened society, facts, not feelings, decide. Statistics take precedence over sentiments. The power of argument beats the mass of the mob. But thanks to the new networking opportunities through social media, millions of individuals are suddenly flocking to opinion bubbles and hate storms. Big data and social media are changing communication. In the new attention economy, the degree of excitement determines ratings and approval.
The bad news is that we must say goodbye to the utopia of a global electronic democracy. The good news is that we do not have to capitulate to the dystopia of electronic populism and its post-factual propaganda.
HYPER-INDIVIDUALIZATION LEADS TO THE DISSOLUTION OF THE ELECTORATE
Classical political communication is struggling with the trend of self-swelling campaign communication. It usually sends a message to all citizens. Where governments do not communicate with their citizens in a modern and targeted manner, these alternative sources of information turn to. More and more people are learning about social media and less about mass media such as television and newspapers.
Social networks and media like Facebook and Instagram become self-reinforcing echo chambers. ‘Buy Instagram followers‘ can help you gain followers and views instantly. Dissenting views and comments are excluded and filtered. Conspiracy theorists, trolls and social bots have taken command. Bouncers that filter in advance and separate garbage from opinion are missing. The Internet, controlled by a few media monopolies, has lost its innocence as the hopeful of liberal democracy.
DOES SOCIAL MEDIA MAKE THE STATE POWERLESS?
In many countries, calls are increasing for state intervention against false news. Politicians are putting pressure on and have called on some social networks to crack down on hate comments and fake news. Facebook has already acted. An NGO is now fighting “fake news”. The approach is similar to the fight against windmills. The German Greens are even calling for a labelling requirement for social bots, in order to prevent programs that pretend to be real people on social media. The boundaries between opinions, facts and misinformation are often fluid. The post-factual age will not be overcome by state and entrepreneurial means alone. Behind them lies a pessimistic image of the electorate that is easy to manipulate.
Can elections be won in the future with the help of digital manipulation? The election winners and their strategists and service providers would like to make us believe this. Resistance would then be futile. But propaganda only works in the long run in a dictatorship. Humans are not machines. Their political preferences cannot be measured with the help of algorithms from measurement data, however precise they may be. Not Facebook and Google are to blame for filter bubbles and hate speech, man is it. The loss of trust in politics and the media is deeper. The hatred and the bubbles have existed before. The new propaganda machines are symptoms and accelerators, but not causes of the post-factual renaissance of a society of ignorance.