Is Social Media Compatible with Deweyan Democracy?

  • Jason Goldfarb Student
Keywords: social media, distraction, online privacy, political polarization, John Dewey, Cass Sunstein, Franklin Foer


John Dewey believed that communication was vital to a well-functioning democracy. The Public and Its Problems (1927) was written during a period of massive technological advancement that strained existing democratic institutions. Yet, America persisted in the Industrial Age. 

Now, a new threat looms—it’s probably in your pocket right now. Social media allows for rapid communication and dissemination of ideas at the click of a button. It provides an opportunity to filter the world through preferred ideological lenses, allowing citizens to discuss ideas on a scale never seen before. This has great potential as a democratizing force in society, but also poses a grave danger to American democracy. Curated social media feeds can create dangerous echo-chambers and feedback loops so that “we are living in different political universes.” Moreover, these platforms are controlled by a handful of Big Tech companies whose algorithms are designed to addict users in order to maximize profit.

 By comparing Deweyan democracy with the technological advances of the Internet Age, this paper explores the challenges that social media poses to American politics. It evaluates social media’s compatibility with American democracy, and discusses possible solutions for a society distracted by their screens.