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Free General Paper (GP) Sample Essay: Is modern technology beneficial or threatening to democracy?

Modern technology is prevalent in our daily lives. Technology associated with telecommunications allows us to communicate with one another with ease and speed. Such technologies have the greatest impact and influence on our beliefs and values. The public network supports numerous social media platforms which allow the general public to voice their opinions ‘freely’. Assuming that we value democracy as the preferred governing system, such sharing platforms can be used to both benefit and threaten democracy. After much deliberation, I argue that modern technology largely benefits democracy and while some threats exist, they are minute and negligible.

Democracy is defined as a government that is elected by the people. It is a system of governance that is commonly associated with freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of artistic expression, etc. In general, most people want their voices to be heard and respected. The idea of being able to achieve our goals, dreams and aspirations freely surely appeal to many people. Modern technology is beneficial to democracy only when it can help magnify the benefits of this popular system of governance. However, it can also be threatening to democracy when it starts to magnify the flaws of democracy.

First, let us discuss the value of democracy. Since democracy encourages the sharing of ideas, such a system allows leaders to approach problems after taking into consideration the different perspectives offered by different parties. If alternative ideas are suppressed, leaders may be forced into making risky and unpopular decisions. Modern technology allows collaboration to take place easily over the Internet. The Singapore government is now known for using popular social media platforms such as Facebook to connect with citizens. Town Councils setup special social media accounts and collect ideas from the residents. In addition, the Internet is abuzz with activity whenever an election is about to take place. This is true not only in Singapore but in many developed nations such as Hong Kong, Japan, Switzerland and the United States. Through numerous social media platforms such as Twitter, Youtube, Facebook and Instagram, any common citizen can voice his or her opinion freely to lend support to their political parties or to support certain political ideals. When voters are highly engaged, this gives rise to a government that has strong support and thus a high level of legitimacy. Since the outcome is a positive one, one would argue that in this case, modern technology is beneficial to democracy.

For sure, modern technology has disrupted traditional modes of communication. Just a few decades ago, we were largely dependent on print media, television and radio for information. If such modes of communication are highly regulated by the government, then opinions tend to be suppressed. The rise of technology changes that (at least in the short-term). Many people believe that they can express themselves freely on the Internet as it remains largely unregulated. I beg to differ. The Internet is simply another mode of communication. It is a tool. If the tool is used to obstruct the government from meeting its objectives, there would surely be intervention of some form. It takes time for the policies and laws to be updated but eventually, governments will implement them. In Singapore, The Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation (POFMA) took effect in year 2019 to prevent individuals from making use of the Internet to cause damage to another person’s reputation simply by posting baseless accusations. Recently, wealthy youths and young adults in China were flaunting their wealth online and the Chinese were quick to recognize that this had a negative influence on the general public as such activities promote arrogance and wastage. The authorities took swift action and banned numerous social media accounts that they deemed detrimental to Chinese culture. Clearly, the belief that modern technology offers complete freedom is an illusion. Governments maintain full control. Hence, it is clear that modern technology, in reality, has limited impact and does not easily threaten the existing system of governance (be it democracy or others).

Detractors may argue that some people may make use of the Internet to magnify the flaws of democracy and hence, cause others to lose confidence in democracy. For instance, extremists may take to the Internet to radicalize young and gullible citizens and encourage them to perform acts of terrorism. In this case, one may argue that modern technology threatens democracy because it gives rise to unruly and violent behaviour. In 2015, two adults who radicalized themselves via social media were arrested and detained in Singapore under the Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA gives the government the power to detain individuals without trial. Although controversial, the ISA has been enforced and proven somewhat effective in weeding out potential threats that arise from the use of modern technology. Hence, confidence levels in democracy remain largely unaffected due to the presence of similar laws.

Detractors may also use the Internet to point out egregious imperfections directly to dampen confidence in democracy. For instance, one may go online to point out that too much freedom of speech can lead to an unstable political climate. Without stability, a country is less likely to be able to continue attracting foreign investments and hence, livelihoods are at stake. By stoking fear, one may become successful in destabilizing a country. Protests could be rife in public streets. Public confidence in the elected government would plunge to an all-time low and hence, threaten democracy.

Admittedly, these concerns are understandable and even legitimate. However, one must not forget that although these are austere concerns, governments are taking an active interest in them. As mentioned, having no regulations at present does not mean that regulations will not come into effect in the near future. With time, governments are realizing that policies and laws need to be updated to deal with problematic concerns. In China, in the name of national security, all foreign social media platforms are banned and citizens are only allowed access to local social media platforms, which are closely monitored and highly regulated by the Chinese government. In New Zealand, the country has recently announced that it will start to regulate social media content to deal with misinformation. Again, this clearly shows that modern technology has little or no impact on a country’s system of governance as it can be controlled and regulated if a government chooses to.

In conclusion, the rise of modern technology has given everyone additional channels to voice their opinions. In other words, we have more choices than ever. I firmly believe that technology has given democracy a boost. At times, technology may appear to threaten democracy. However, these threats can easily be curbed by incumbent governments and therefore, modern technology poses little threat to democracy.

(1102 words)

This Essay is written based on the research framework taught by Mr. Chow.

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Gentle reminder: Please note that this essay is a demonstration of the end result once students acquire the necessary GP skills. Do not just copy the essay blindly. Plagiarism is inadvisable!