Not only is 2024 a LEAP year but it’s also one of the most important years for democracy in recent history. 65+ countries (plus the European Union) will be holding elections affecting about half of the world’s population. But democracy is not a given. It’s getting its backside kicked by online disinformation and propaganda attempting to manipulate outcomes and making people question what is real and not. Dark money, corruption and general demagoguery — as we’ve learned from the Covid enquiry and the fact that Trump still has a shot at running for a second term — isn’t something that just happens in so-called third world countries either.
As social media platforms overtake news outlets as primary conduits for the spreading of information, but with very limited fact checking and journalistic rigour, there is rightful cause for concern. Social media giants have a lot to answer for as online hate speech and conspiracies spills out into actual physical political violence, like during the US insurrection, when Bolsonaro followers stormed government buildings in Brazil, and countless others. According to the Global Coalition for Tech Justice, tech companies have clearly underinvested in moderation and safeguarding, especially in non-english languages. Not taking into account risk of harm as well as investing according to market size.
But there are people attempting to hold them to account. We were immensely proud to be asked to design and develop the Year of Democracy campaign website on behalf of our client Digital Action and the Global Coalition for Tech Justice at the end of 2023. The Global Coalition for Tech Justice brings together activists, civil society, journalists, academics, experts and concerned citizens to put pressure on Big Tech to make online platforms safe for us all.
Power to the brand
So governments aren’t doing a great job, tech companies have their heads in the sand — it’s time for brands to step in. Right..?
Well, as much as environmental and social responsibility is at the core of everything we do, as much as Patagonia has most definitely had a bigger positive effect on the environment than Michael Gove, we are not a replacement for democratically elected government. Yeah, loads of brands do loads of good stuff and that’s great — but we don’t have to. We don’t answer to the public. The majority of brands exist to create value for shareholders, that’s it. Systems challenging this, like the B Corp legal structure and obligations are an important part of the overall picture. And please do keep supporting the brands acting with integrity for the good of planet and society. But in the words of John Brown: “Don’t vote with your money, vote with your fucking vote”. Relying on brands to save the day is a real slippery slope.
“Don’t vote with your money, vote with your fucking vote”
– John Brown
It’s been a hard few years to be hopeful but if the alternative is giving up, put us down for hope. We need a collective effort to protect democracy, initiatives focused on fact-checking, legislation, education, tech innovation, and making good use of the influence we have ourselves. Let’s have at it.
Learn more about Digital Action and check out the new website we recently designed and built for them over here.