With the development of new communication technologies and the development of the internet, new media as opposed to legacy media began to play a more important role, especially also in political communication; they therefor now are an important part of democratic systems. But because new media are able to distribute information among individuals directly without any institution interfering, they have brought a certain level of unpredictability to the political communication process. Because of that the question arises whether new media rather enhance or pose a threat to democracy?
On the one hand much of the content the new media disseminate is false and often scandalous in order to get as much attention as possible. Social media also play an extensive role in the spreading of fake news, and these types of news can be harmful to democracy as they impede a well informed decision-making process and because fake news are so popular among the users so that true investigative journalism gets less attention.
The rise of new media can be a danger to democracy in that sense because of its lack of institutional control, and they can be misused to influence what the people get to see and what they form their opinions on. If new media is misused by politicians, it can be especially harmful to democracy, if politicians spread selective information about themselves to improve their election campaigns – and that to me is not democratic.
On the other hand new media are able to reach more people. New media use peer-to-peer channels and personalized information in order to even reach the most disinterested people. Like that more people become involved in politics, which could increase voter turnout and in general the number of people who want to make an informed decision about leadership and politics. And through new media there has been a vast increase in politically interested people.
On social media platforms individual users tend to take on the watchdog role of the media. That way politicians and other officials are watched over more closely and get more and stricter criticism than by the mainstream media. On social media individual people are also able to bring up issues they consider as important that might have been overlooked by the mainstream media. Moreover the new media provide another forum where people can openly share their opinions.
And lastly I believe trying to stop the rise of new media or even the spread of fake news would rather be a danger to democracy. Although some of the information that is spread might be harmful, it is still part of the right to free speech to write and post about anything you want. Trying to stop that would do great harm to the freedom of speech – a core value of democracy. Also in many cases the government underestimates the people because most of the time they are able to recognize fake news. Even though new media can be misused due to its lack of ‘institutional gatekeepers‘; but because of it they also provide a wider forum for the people to express their opinions and give non-mainstream voices a chance to be heard. On new media platforms people have the opportunity to actively choose from a variety of opinions and information.
This is why I consider new media as rather enhancing democracy because they represent a variety of opinions and make political decision-making more diverse as opposed to legacy media where the information that is published is rather limited to the choices of established journalists.