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Democracy Under Siege From Autocrats, Social Media and Its Own Failures

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But China has made it clear that it sees the United States and its democracy in terminal decline, while it has been careful at home to control or censor what some consider the crucial engines of that decline, especially social media and the internet.

The digitalization of the political space and the confusion between truth and lies has undermined democracy, said Bruno Le Maire, France’s minister for the Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty.

“The digital revolution has not only changed the organization of our nations and societies, but our brains,” he said in an interview. “There can be no democracy without a common ground for debate. And what is the outcome of a political debate? A majority of people gathering themselves around shared truths, shared observations and shared diagnostics. But in the era of the digital revolution, there is no such a thing.”

Social media is “a different mental universe” and has “no single truth,” yet “at the core of democracy is the distinction between truth and lies,” he said. “It is the key political question today, because our liberal democracies are profoundly undermined by this digital revolution and by the individualization of society.”

Bernard Spitz, a lawyer and adviser to Medef, the largest employer organization in France, agreed that globalization and digitalization had altered democratic societies, “and like all revolutions, they can bring the best and the worst,” including doubts about democracy and stability, more visible extremism and “democratic disillusion.”

But associated with the new digital world of social media, there is another challenge to democracy that is emerging, and that is generational. The young care most about climate change, which they regard as existential, and less about liberal democracy, Mr. Le Maire said. “For the younger generation, climate is the main issue — their political awareness centers on climate change.”

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