Nick Clegg is right. Even Bhutan’s fledgling politics feels baleful effects of tech

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 22, 2018

After he took a job with Facebook, former UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg explained his decision as prompted by a desire to “build bridges between politics and tech” because the two worlds “too often speak past each other”.

He’s right on that count. Politics is increasingly affected by the data-driven technological revolution, sometimes for the worse.

Bhutan, a young democracy that swapped its absolute monarchy for electoral politics just a decade ago, went to the polls on Thursday. Interestingly, the one point Bhutanese voters made about retail politics was the social media aspect of campaigning. They didn’t like it, believing it to be too divisive. In a country devoted to the principle of Gross National Happiness, a senior Bhutanese Election Commission official agreed social media creates “disharmony in the society”.

Ahead of Afghanistan’s election on Saturday (October 20) social media’s “chilling” effect on turnout was also feared. As Afghans mourned the assassination of a prominent police chief on the streets – and online – the Taliban issued yet more threats to voters and parliamentary candidates warned it could  have an effect.

Brazil’s presidential election too has been hit by allegations that the far-right front-runner Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign has flooded social media with “fake news” about his opponent.

Mr Clegg has his work cut out for him. Politics is increasingly affected by  technology – in ways good and bad. Both must partner more closely as digital natives become voters and mobile tech spreads news, views and enables campaigning by social media.