Authoritarian states have weaponised the vulnerabilities of technology and unchecked power of social media to exploit the very tenet of democracy that they despise – free expression – to undermine democracy itself.
Democracy is on life support! At least, that appears to be a dominant narrative in our public discourse. Driven in large part by populist upheavals motivated by genuine grievances against the established status quo and its ruling elites, technology—in particular social media—has taken extreme and polarising voices to scale. In a world of near-ubiquitous and evermore intrusive connectivity, fuelled by micro-segmenting algorithms, democracy as an idea remains ill-equipped to defend itself against the powerful and persistent centrifugal forces of technology. Although fundamentally a crisis of our own doing, or at least our acquiescence, the vulnerabilities of technology have now become weapons of choice employed by militarily and economically weaker authoritarian states such as Russia and China in their seemingly unrestrained struggle against the West. Hence, the aim of this paper is to highlight the threat posed by social media, and those who seek to exploit it, to democratic ideals, as well as to propose a model to protect them, represented by the acronym DARE (Defend, Assist, Regulate, and Educate). Although a significant challenge, as this paper describes, standing up against the forces seeking to undermine democratic values is ultimately a matter of choice, rather than capability. While not a panacea to the underlying tensions enabling polarisation within our societies, acting swiftly to stem the damage caused by such technologies must take centre stage if we are to save the democratic experiment.