Technology can be powerful, but it isn’t inherently good or bad. Just as a hammer isn’t inherently good or bad; what matters is how it’s used. Are we using the tool to build or to destroy?
Technology can be a weapon against democracy. Fake news, fabricated for virality, spreads harmful propaganda at the speed of a share. Governments use technology to violate the privacy of law-abiding citizens. Bad actors have influenced elections and broken into our Defense Department through our inboxes.
But if civic engagement fuels democracy, technology can be a savior, too. Technology helped us to register more voters in 2016 than ever before in American history. Technology has empowered outsider candidates to raise funds, compete, and win against elite party heavyweights. Open data policies and portals provide free, up-to-date access to valuable information about communities and government, and citizens are using it to build businesses and to hold government accountable. An unprecedented number of citizens are taking a stand through digital petitions and using smartphone apps to contact their elected officials. We may not like all the outcomes, but more people are getting involved in democracy through tech.