Is Social Media Destroying Democracy?

2019, Summit Confronting the Disinformation Age, Media + Information, Democracy

A Debate on Social Media in the Age of Disinformation

Democracy, the fundamental idea that an individual can express their personal choices through a vote, hangs in the balance.

There’s no denying that social media has become a central force in democratic society today. It allows for people to connect and exchange ideas, creating an increasingly connected humanity. It enables unprecedented sharing of information so that citizens can make more informed decisions. Marginalized people, whose voices have long been omitted from public discourse, have a platform with which they can express themselves.

But is social media a tool that informs and unites, or is it responsible for deeper divisions and a more polarized society? Are misinformation, digital propaganda, algorithmic biases, and campaign hacking scandals determining the results of our elections? Do unintended flaws in the platforms and sluggish regulation threaten to undermine our democratic process?

Is social media destroying our democracy? If it is, what role can public policy play in regulation, will regulation even work, and can we save our democracy before it’s too late?   

Don’t miss this oxford-style debate hosted in partnership with SFU’s School of Public Policy and the British Columbia Civil Discourse Society.

Listen to the full debate on the Politicoast podcast.

Read Is Social Media Destroying Our Democracy? by Gabrielle Plonka for The Tyee

Thu, 11 Apr 2019

7:00 - 9:00 p.m. (PT)

Vancouver Public Library - Central Branch
Alice MacKay Room - Lower Level
350 West Georgia St.
Vancouver, B.C

We respectfully acknowledge that this event takes place on the Unceded, Traditional, Ancestral Territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ, kʷikʷəƛ̓əm, and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm First Nations.

About Confronting the Disinformation Age

SFU Public Square’s 2019 Community Summit considered how the proliferation of disinformation is impacting society and challenging our capacity to make informed decisions about our economic, social, and political lives. Together, we co-created strategies to ensure stronger and healthier information ecosystems and stimulate more connected and resilient communities.

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The Disinformation Age
Information is fundamental to our existence. Without it, we cannot understand or effectively respond to the events that shape our world. Throughout history, campaigns to deliberately spread false information to influence public opinion or obscure the truth have been launched by individuals, organizations, and governments. But today, we’re living in a new age of information facilitated primarily by digital technology. These advancements offer us extraordinary access to facts and data but also allow for harmful, inaccurate, and manipulated information to be created and disseminated at an unprecedented speed, scope, and scale. Falsehoods are pitted against facts in competition for our attention and technology is used to exploit our cognitive functioning without repercussion. In what is being called the “post-truth” era, the distortion of our information landscape is eroding our trust in institutions, political systems, the media, and each other.


Debaters – For

Colin Bennett 

Colin Bennett received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the University of Wales, and his Ph.D from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since 1986 he has taught in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria, where he is now Professor. His research has focused on the social implications of new information technologies. He has completed policy reports on privacy and data protection for the Canadian government, the Canadian Standards Association, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the European Commission, the UK Information Commissioner and others. He is currently working on a comparative research project on the use of personal data by political parties and election campaigns.

Dave Moscrop 

Dave Moscrop is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Communication at the University of Ottawa, a contributing columnist at the Washington Post, a writer with Maclean’s, a political commentator, and the author of ‘Too Dumb for Democracy? Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones’. He spent eight years in Vancouver, where he completed his Ph.D. in political Science at UBC and held a postdoc in the Scholarly Communication Lab at SFU. He lives in Ottawa.

Debaters – Against

Nasma Ahmed

Nasma Ahmed is a technologist and community organizer based in the city we now know as Toronto. Nasma is currently the Director of the Digital Justice Lab, whose mission is to build towards a more just and equitable digital future. Digital Justice Lab is a project on the shared platform by Tides Canada Initiative. She has extensive experience working alongside the public service and the non-profit sector, focusing on technology capacity building. She was the 2017/2018 Open Web Fellow with Mozilla and Ford Foundation, through her fellowship she worked on building organizational digital security and running a youth workshop series called "Digital Future of Privacy".

Francesca Fionda 

Francesca Fionda is a data journalist with The Discourse, a community-driven journalism organization based in Vancouver. Right now, she’s digging into Indigenous-style souvenirs in Vancouver’s tourism industry and stories about BC’s child-welfare system. Before the Discourse she worked on investigative teams at Global News and the CBC. Three things she loves about democracy are: freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and the free stickers you get on election day.


Stephen Quinn

Stephen Quinn is host of CBC Radio One’s popular morning show The Early Edition, a post he has often been quoted as saying is his “dream job.” Every week day, listeners wake up and tune-in for their daily dose of breaking news, traffic, local stories, entertainment, and interviews.

Previously, Quinn was the long time host of afternoon radio show On The Coast, where he was known for featuring people from the community and covering the day’s local news. He also connected with listeners on social media during shows, allowing citizens to participate in conversations in real-time, adding another dimension to live radio. He spent eight-years as CBC’s civic affairs reporter. This position spearheaded his passion for municipal politics, as well as his unwavering interview style and skill in prompting answers from notable subjects while delving into important issues.


Confronting the Disinformation Age | Trailer

Watch the Recording

In the News

Debate: Is Social Media Destroying Democracy? — Politicoast (April 17, 2019)

Is Social Media Destroying Our Democracy? — Gabrielle Plonka, The Tyee (April 15, 2019)

Ep 133: Social Media is Bad — Politicoast (April 12, 2019)

Reports and Resources

Confronting the Disinformation Age | Resources

Books, articles, videos and other resources on disinformation.

Supporters and Partners

Media partner

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