Does Social Media Have a Democratic Future?

With each passing month, the drumbeat against social media and, especially, ‘Big Tech’, grows louder. While technology has kept much of the world spinning during a pandemic, increasing numbers of people believe that many social ills can be laid at its feet. The concerns have produced calls in numerous countries for regulation and control – up to and including dismantling the platforms altogether. Much of the debate, though, involves a striking amount of ‘magical thinking’ – hand-waving away the immense problems of scale, the considerable benefits of free digital services and the dangers of expecting non-state actors to prioritize the public good. Starting from the premise that liberal democracies require some modest agreement about the goals of public policy, I interrogate what ‘legitimate’ regulation of digital communication might look like and what might make that possible.