Why the U.S. Is Being Compared to Hungary and Turkey

First, society polarizes, often over a backlash to social change, to demographic change, to strengthening political power by racial, ethnic or religious minorities, and generally amid rising social distrust.

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This leads to a bottom-up desire for populist outsiders who will promise to confront the supposed threat within, which means suppressing the other side of that social or partisan or racial divide, asserting a vision of democracy that grants special status for “my” side, and smashing the democratic institutions or norms that prevent that side from asserting what is perceived to be its rightful dominance.

You also tend to see political parties and other establishment gatekeepers, who are in theory meant to keep authoritarians from rising in politics, either weaken or become co-opted. Once populist hard-liners gain enough power to begin eroding democratic checks, such as an independent judiciary or the rule of law, it’s usually a steady slide toward democratic erosion.

This trend has really picked up speed, globally, only in the last 20 years or so. So it’s hard to say exactly how common it is for countries that begin on this path to end up like Hungary or Turkey. But very few democracies have begun to slide and then reversed course.

You have a new book called “The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World.” In your reporting and research for the book, what sorts of effects on democracy did you find social media is having? I’m old enough to remember when techno-evangelists like Clay Shirky were predicting that social media would unleash a wave of democratization in the developing world. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Or has it?

I had that same arc of initially seeing social media as a democratizing force.

So did a lot of Arab Spring activists from the early 2010s, like Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian revolutionary and Google engineer. But, within a few years, Ghonim had come to conclude, he has said in a TED Talk, that “the same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart” by “amplifying the spread of misinformation, rumors, echo chambers and hate speech.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/12/us/politics/democracy-united-states.html