M said “facebook is ending democracy”. It’s a common fear. But how, exactly, could this be happening? Let’s try and breakdown the possibilities:

Because facebook somehow over-rides our free will? Engineer and former Facebook VP of user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, says this (video, report), as do others, but it is not a coherent accusation.

Because facebook creates echo-chambers?. The evidence on this is ambiguous. One study found that people are more likely to connect with people with dissimilar views over facebook than offline.

Distraction? Social media as a cathartic substitute for political engagement? In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam blames television and commuting for a large part of a loss of trust and participation in social organisations. Is Facebook displacing valuable social and political actions, rather than catalysing them?

Related, does social media’s excellence at bite-sized information mean that context, nuance and argument are now disadvantaged in a way they weren’t before?

Misinformation? Fake news, propaganda, weaponised hoaxes, the whole boatload of lies and half-truths. But surely this is not new. Something about the lack of transparency, and the ability to insert misinformation so it is transmitted along our social networks, the same kind of currency as news of their pets and holiday photos, adds a terrifying velocity to misinformation.

False consensus – creating the impression that something is universally viewed at true or important, when it isn’t. See also filter bubbles. Distinguished from echo chambers, but algorithmically curated blindness to counterpoints.

Erosion of common ground – loss of common knowledge and frames of reference. If we don’t know why other people believe what they believe, how can we start to engage them

Monopoly powers – facebook has 2 billion+ monthly users. That’s too much power for a single media entity to have without a truckload of regulatory oversight or democracy control.

Any evidence bearing on the factors I list? Any factors I missed? Comments are open!