As we head closer towards the end of the year, one thing is certain, people have been through a lot of change here and overseas.
And it is pretty clear that this year will be the catalyst for a lot more upheaval.
The Pandora's box potential of social media became fully, glaringly, apparent in 2020. It is a curse that Western societies will be grappling with for years.
Social media companies have collectively become an ocean for transporting crazy, muddled ideas, conspiracy theories, lies, 'alternative facts,' and fakery posing as information, around the globe.
It has become a major problem for democracies - as illustrated in real time by the United States election scrap.
Facebook's warning labels on Trump's baseless post-election claims are basically doing nothing to slow the spread of false content across the platform. https://t.co/hVqBUWseae— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) November 22, 2020
The days when experts worried about people being radicalised online in small dark corners of the internet now seem almost quaint compared to how fringe ideas have become mainstream and taboos have been smashed.
A lot of that has to do with how easily people can find a tribe of others with similar views, organise, and spread disinformation on social media. And more importantly, how all that can be manipulated.
"You're not talking about grassroots activity so much anymore," said Alex Stamos, a US expert on disinformation and director of the Stanford Internet Observatory.
"You're talking about top-down activity that is facilitated by the ability of these folks to create these audiences."
In the US, conservative television news outlets and radio also help spread top-down messages.
The Boston Globe front page. pic.twitter.com/hClaUB9mAC— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 21, 2020
The biggest subverter of American democracy is the current leader of the country who is actively trying to overturn his election loss and the will of most voters with debunked claims of fraud. Everything is being carried out in plain sight.
As his legal challenges fail, President Donald Trump is attempting to influence state election officials. States are expected to certify election results by December 6.
The effort will likely delegitimise President-elect Joe Biden's victory for Trump's millions of supporters and appears to be an attempt to sabotage his upcoming term.
Biden won by the same Electoral College margin as Trump in 2016 and by a popular vote margin of at least 6 million.
Yet polls show Trump has managed to convince many supporters that the election was stolen and many Republican officials are enabling him.
Even though Trump is prolonging the inevitable, and the attempt has become a farce, it is still dangerous for the political system to undermine facts and amplify disinformation.
Four years ago, fingers were pointed at Russian interference in the US election. This time it is a self-own.
There has been a multi-pronged permission structure: The President's party officials and sympathetic media give Trump free rein; his behaviour enables his base to publicly give vent to grievances; and they fuel his power.
Death threats, intimidation and fear for U.S. democracy — the fallout of Trump's refusal to concede. Some may dismiss Trump's futile antics, but election officials in several states are worried. https://t.co/8sRTCeIntD— Alexander Panetta (@Alex_Panetta) November 21, 2020
AP reported that Zignal Labs tracked millions of social media posts about mail voting in the months before the US election and found huge spikes immediately following several of the US President's Twitter tweets.
Harvard University researchers looked at posts and stories about voter fraud and decided that: "Fox News and Donald Trump's own campaign were far more influential in spreading false beliefs than Russian trolls or Facebook clickbait artists."
Other countries, including our own, should not be smug and complacent about these developments.
Obama’s feelings toward social media, including Facebook, have changed significantly since his historic presidency: “I think it is the single biggest threat to our democracy" https://t.co/13qCnDr6Dv— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) November 20, 2020
Different countries deal with trans-national problems and we are all plugged in online and subject to common influences. The US experience with Trump has been similar to some extent with Britain and Brexit.
Democracies rely on leaders and people following laws, customs and traditions and doing the right thing. But what happens if they don't and people cannot agree on objective facts? And why are so many people susceptible?
A lesson from the pandemic is that public trust requires a sense of fairness and being supported in return. People need to feel involved, not shut out, anxious and angry.
As automation and inequality increases, the need for a basic level of income and job security will grow - or so will instability.