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In liberal democracies, is the role of voting challenged by new forms of political participation?

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In the United States, Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United have had a profound effect on the role of voting. The majority decision in this case established the precedent that political donations are a form of free speech, and therefore laws limiting campaign contributions and prohibiting corporate donations are unconstitutional. By equating spending with other forms of human expression, the Supreme Court has opened the door to the wealthy and business interests drowning out the voices of everyday Americans. If the average voter voicing their opinion is like someone standing on a soapbox in the town square, a billionaire doing so has a megaphone and their own radio station.

First, the wealthy have the money to proliferate their message by forming political action committees that can buy airtime on major television networks. Candidates with more PAC support enjoy more exposure; they can frame the narrative of the whole election, defining an opponent before she can defend herself. In the wake of Citizens United, campaigns have become much more expensive, forcing politicians to rely more on PACs in order to be competitive. This has the effect of giving wealthy donors greater access to politicians and outsized influence over their policy positions. Moreover, PACs now function as nonprofit, public interest organizations, which, unlike a candidate's own campaign, don't have to disclose their donors. This has led to an explosion of "dark money" in campaigns.

The advent of social media during the early 2000s was once hailed as a democratizing force, giving everyone their own platforms with which to share and spread ideas. However, social media has also proven to have troubling implications when it comes to democracy. Even on the internet corporations and private donors have outsized influence. PACs hire marketing teams to generate online content like blog posts, email broadcasts, and online commercials. Second, it turns out that in any debate, repetition matters more than truth. Nefarious actors can now spread false information about a candidate or issue by writing posts and sharing them by means of troll farms, armies of fake or hacked accounts designed to inflate the number of views a message receives until platforms like Twitter and Facebook pick up on the buzz and start circulating the content themselves. The volume of disinformation on social media has become an epidemic that has served to radicalize some Americans and cause others to become suspicious of all traditional information sources and democracy in general.

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