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Does too much information/communication endanger democracy?

Is too much information and communication endangering democracy?

Elections are designed to lead to stable and effective government if voters express their true opinions and vote sincerely. However, when they get a clear idea of how other voters might vote, voters may be tempted to maximise the chances of the desired outcome by voting strategically.

Elections are designed to lead to stable and effective government if voters express their true opinions and vote sincerely. However, when they get a clear idea of how other voters might vote, voters may be tempted to maximise the chances of the desired outcome by voting strategically.

In the information-rich society of today, through media polls and by exchanging opinions on social media sites such as twitter, voters can get a clearer idea than ever before of which way the vote might go and what coalition of strategic voters should be formed to achieve a result which is more desirable for them.

There is not much that a single person can do. However if a voter is well-connected in the online world and has many followers - up to 50 million for example - he or she may be tempted to persuade followers to vote in a certain way.

Such a creation of powerful manipulating coalitions may have a serious destabilising effect on democracy in the future.

Strategic voting and the potential power of social media in regard to elections is the topic of University of Auckland mathematics professor Arkadii Slinko’s Inaugural Lecture on May 29.

“Social networks are a concern because voter influence offline is meticulously regulated,” Professor Slinko says. “For example, there are rules around advertising and publication of polls close to polling day but nothing is regulated online".

“That means that as a voter, I have the same power that you do. But in an online world, some people have become super-powerful in social networks so that they have the potential to be more powerful than you or me and this is not regulated.”

Professor Slinko will discuss examples where political polls may have influenced the outcome of an election, including the case of an American body builder elected Governor of Minnesota in 1999.

Professor Slinko also discusses mathematical problems in trying to understand how strategic voting undermines the rules of an electoral system.

“The most difficult thing to know is how voters react to information. We don’t know how many strategic voters there are for example. But we are trying to understand how coalitions of voters form and the increased influence some individual voters may have.”

Lecture details: 6 - 7pm, PLT1 Lecture Theatre, Building 303, 38 Princes St


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