New Joint Research Centre report shows influence of social media on political behaviour and democracies

Today, the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) publishes a new report on Technology and Democracy, analysing the influence of online technologies on political behaviour and decision-making. Almost 48% of Europeans use social media on an everyday basis and interact politically online. These platforms are subject to limited public oversight and democratic governance, which can have a huge impact on societies. Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, said: “Social media platforms are valuable tools that help us connect with each other and engage in our democracies. But they are also used to spread polarising messages and misleading information, which can hamper our ability to make informed political decisions. This new report characterises these challenges, providing solid evidence to help us take the right actions to safeguard a participatory, democratic future for the benefit of all European citizens.” The report reveals the pressure put on the foundations of democratic societies because of the influence of social media and their effects on political opinions and our behaviours. It outlines key challenges, such as platforms taking advantage of the information collected on users’ personalities to capture and keep their attention or using behavioural techniques to encourage people to constantly engage and share their information. An important finding shows that users are often unfamiliar with the data they provide and how it is used. Finally, it points to complex algorithms, which select the information users see online, that are often opaque and not well understood, and can encourage polarised discourse or stop us from receiving reliable information. The study comes ahead of several landmark initiatives announced by the Commission addressing issues arising from social media: the Digital Services Act and the European Democracy Action Plan. The full press release with more information is available here.