Recently, the largest ever election in global history occurred in India, with 600 million voters casting ballots all over the nation. In light of the rise of authoritarian right-wing governments in the past year, India’s election is a refreshing reminder that democracy is very much alive. In fact, democracy has never been as vibrant as in the 21st century, with nearly half of the global population living in a nation with some form of representative government. Some main social factors leading to the democratization of contemporary structures of government relate to the rise of technology usage, specifically through the development of internet and social media.
To begin with, technology increases access to information and education levels. Before the existence of the internet, many people primarily obtained information through government-controlled establishments or word of mouth, meaning many depended upon unreliable information, or worse, had no access to information at all. In contrast, the majority of people now have access to some form of internet, acting as a mechanism to hold governments accountable, because they are no longer the sole source of information and people are more aware of problems within the country. Moreover, technology raises education levels across socioeconomic and political borders; a globally educated populace is more likely to resist state indoctrination and question the system when it is problematic. Having more informed and engaged citizens promotes democracy in the sense that people are politically involved and able to think critically about government structures.
Secondly, social media enables citizens to cohesively plan civil revolts and protests in pursuit of individual freedoms, as well as improve existing democratic mechanisms. Without a means to connect protestors safely, revolutions are often disorganized and consequently unsuccessful, but when well-coordinated, civil revolutions can be an efficacious way to push governments to tangibly become more representative and implement voting systems. For instance, during the Arab Spring, citizens were able to coordinate revolutions using social media, as seen during the Tunisian revolution, which resulted in Tunisia becoming what is widely considered to be most democratic state in North Africa. Even in states with established electoral systems, social media is still a useful way for citizens to speak their opinions and become politically involved in an accessible way. From civic engagement and civil revolution, social media gives people a platform to voice their needs and be heard by others.
The final link between technology and democratization is spreading awareness about non democratic governments globally, potentially resulting in external influence to improve democracy. In cases where traditional media cannot access autocratic or authoritarian nations with strict media regulations, citizen journalism allows the outside world to become aware of what is going on inside the borders. Furthermore, when people in Western nations use social media to are more likely to donate to non governmental organizations focused on helping democracy thrive. The other mechanism for democratization is when increased awareness leads to more political will of liberal governments to promote democracy abroad, either through citizens voting in representatives who are invested in global democratization or other forms of pressuring governments. Global engagement with the problem of oppressive states is often a necessary measure to break free and restore freedom to the people.
In the end, technology is certainly not the only cause of democratization, but it does have the potential to arm citizens with facts, unite people against oppressive states, and give the individuals a voice, in democracies and non democracies alike.