Seeing the forest – and the trees: The global challenge of regulating social media for democracy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The political implications of social media sites are finally receiving sustained attention. These sites both reinforce and undermine democracy, challenging regulators to balance positive developments and curb negative developments while being attentive to multilateral and international implications. This article maps this regulatory challenge, beginning with the emergence of the sites in order to understand the type of response that might be required of policymakers. The historiography allows for an actor-network analysis of the terrain, highlighting the characteristics of individual sites that together trigger the need for more holistic regulation. The article then examines the impact of social media on both individuals and institutions to emphasise that the actor-network both shapes and is shaped by actor action. Moving beyond a false dichotomy to see social media as neither purely good nor purely bad, the article frames the complexity of the regulatory ecosystem, and invites regulation that aims for a utopic outcome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-471
Number of pages17
JournalSouth African Journal of International Affairs
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2023


  • social media
  • democracy
  • elections
  • Africa
  • digital technology
  • United States

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