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Politics in the digital age – democratisation or dysfunction?

Brian McNair comments in the Brisbane Times (9.9.16) on the influence that the media, and in particular digital and social media, have upon the increasingly fragmented nature of contemporary politics in Western democracies.

‘All is not well with democracy. Here in Australia, compulsory voting masks what most believe to be a deep popular disillusionment with the political class, reflected in the recent general election outcome.

‘”A pox on both your houses”, is how many commentators read the mediocre performances of both major parties, and the rise of independents and mavericks such as Pauline Hanson.

‘In the UK, meanwhile, the June Brexit vote shocked the world with its implied rebuke of established politics. There, too, radical outsiders such as Nigel Farrage and his UK Independence party won out over politics-as-usual, and persuaded 20 million Brits to support leaving the European Union.

‘It was undemocratic, the Brexiteers said. A majority of the people agreed, and the UK political establishment was humiliated.

‘And then there’s Trump, the first openly racist, KKK-endorsed, quasi-fascistic candidate for the US presidency to have a serious chance of winning the White House.

‘Like Hitler in the 1930s, Trump is a product of the democratic process, his status as Republican nominee a sign that many Americans are thoroughly sick of mainstream politics.

‘This is not where many of us thought we would be in the second decade of the digital age. For the digital optimists – and I am among them, still, just – it seemed that the unprecedented communicative power of the internet and social media would enhance democracy, empower citizens, and help counter the abuse of power by political elites.’

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