Social media, and the fake news that spread across it, no doubt played a role in delivering the “Brexiteers” their surprise victory in the UK’s May 2016 referendum on EU membership. If the benefit of letting social media run amok is that doing so lays bare some chronic and unrevealed ills in democratic society, then we had best cherish those insights and act upon them. Because they come at a very high cost, opening cracks so wide, mere patches no longer suffice.
Tribal tendencies. Historical grievances. Simplistic and exploitable stereotypes. Democracies have carried with them into the social media age a receptivity for ideas and attitudes that are fundamentally at-odds with the universalizing ideals upon which post-World War II institutions (like the European Union) were built. Amidst all this will social media be a universalizing force or another tribal tool?