One of the more striking developments of 2016 and its highly unusual politics was the emergence of a “post-fact” world, in which virtually all authoritative information sources were called into question and challenged by contrary facts of dubious quality and provenance.
The emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web in the 1990s was greeted as a moment of liberation and a great boon for democracy worldwide. Information constitutes a form of power, and to the extent that information was becoming cheaper and more accessible, democratic publics would be able to participate in domains from which they had been hitherto excluded.
The development of social media in the early 2000s appeared to accelerate this trend, permitting the mass mobilization that fueled various democratic “color revolutions” around the world, from Ukraine to Burma (Myanmar) to Egypt. In a world of peer-to-peer communication, the old gatekeepers of information, largely seen to be oppressive authoritarian states, could now be bypassed.
While there was some truth to this positive narrative, another, darker one was also taking shape.