In early 2016 we predicted that the Leave voters would win the UK’s EU Referendum (BREXIT). Incidentally, we also predicted that Donald Trump would win. How did we know? Because we could see that social media realised the democracy of the ‘mob’ that the Greeks feared – where the ill-informed majority could be easily influenced.
As Jose Ortega y Gasset said in his visionary 1930s book ‘The Revolt of the Masses’:
“The characteristic of the hour is that the commonplace mind, despite (maybe) knowing itself to be commonplace, has the assurance to proclaim the rights of the commonplace and to impose them wherever it will” …
What does this mean? As Thomas Jefferson said “The greatest threat to democracy is an uneducated citizenry“. Donald Trump, in his victory speech in February 2016, preened and affectionately recounted the numbers that added up to his huge victory:
“We won the evangelicals. We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”, he said.
For Trump, the Fake News and Alternative Facts spread by social media were his key cards. Of course he loves the poorly educated, they don’t trust experts or academics or professionals in authority because some of those people have been found cheating or misleading the public at some time. Instead, they trust their online friends more.
The conclusion in the mind of the populus seems to be, via confirmation bias, that therefore all these people are liars. Social media accelerates this bias in ways that society in general does not understand (there are a few that warn about the risks but they are treated as Cassandras, or as ‘cyberoutlaws who dare to be different‘).
This is the new democracy at work – through social-media – where one ill-informed person’s vote is as good as any other and millions can say ‘”If this many of us think X, then X must be right – ours is an Alternative Fact! Anyone who disagrees with us can’t be trusted … they are telling us Fake News.”.
Some people might say that, in the UK in 2016, “The commonplace mind did not, and probably still does not, understand how the EU works, yet affirmed its misunderstanding of things in the BREXIT vote, and has imposed it on all.”
In the longer-term, the trend seems to be towards assuming that the mass view must be correct. Why? Because it’s a majority view and ‘That’s democracy, right?’. This may undermine humanity’s ability to take decisive, often unpopular decisions, in the face of existential challenges. Correction … it will undermine our ability.