By Stephania Xenophontos

The growing intrusion of social media into the political scene has helped to undermine the sustenance of democracy.

Although, in essence, politics is a constant competition where politicians fight each other for votes, what we now see is that a large part of the competition takes place on social media. Politicians have increasingly become dependent on mass media and can often be compared to influencers on social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram. At the end of the day, elections are a popularity contest; however, it is increasingly doubtful whether democracy is also a winner.

For example, Donald Trump has been ‘trending’ for quite some time now because he always says something provocative, or extremely ridiculous. Nevertheless, despite the events that transpired on January 6, 2021 with the attack on the US Capitol, he is still a popular candidate for this year’s US presidential elections. Time and time again, Donald Trump, who has definitely opened a new chapter in populist politics, has used the media to advance his animosity against immigrants and, his favorite topic, women amongst other things.

In the era of social media, where everyone gets their “15 minutes of fame”, as Andy Warhol brilliantly put it, it is extremely important that journalism stands its ground and refrain from being used by politicians as a tool to advance their agendas and candidacies, especially at this time when populism seems to define the current political climate. What populism really has achieved is to mainstream the far right (the rise of far-right wing parties globally is evidential), while at the same time being used to deflect from the real issues (such as climate change).

Arguably, the media has played a central role either as complicit in or as an initiator in supporting populist ideas. A brilliant example of using the media as means to advance populist ideas would be Brexit, but we can just look at what is happening now in Cyprus. What we see now, with the rise of the far-right Elam party in Cyprus, is that populism is advancing.

One of the reasons that populism is on the rise could be because politicians from the main parties in Cyprus are clearly unable to address the public’s concerns and/or are perhaps mostly focused on retaining power. But there is little willingness from the press in Cyprus to be ‘arbiters of truth’ and apply more criticism in the media. It seems that the press is eager to sacrifice quality journalism in the interest of harvesting the commercial benefits of promoting articles that would trend, either because they are inaccurate and thus, appeal to the populist sentiment, or because they are primarily focused on people who promote inaccuracies like, for example, Donald Trump.

By doing so, the press is complicit to promoting populism. Unfortunately, there is a growing number of people who are not only easily manipulated by populist media but are also drawing information through social media platforms like Facebook or X where anyone can literally write anything about anyone with zero consequences whatsoever (thank you, Elon Musk for that).

This undermines the public’s confidence in the governmental instructions and democracy itself. It is for all the aforementioned reasons that we see violent anti-immigrant riots happening in Cyprus, and it is precisely for these reasons that it is quite easy, albeit sad, to predict where the political scene in Cyprus (and globally) is heading.

Let us not forget that the press has a share in influencing politics and the rise of political leaders in Cyprus. As such, journalists should, under all circumstances, strive to report accurately, impartially and fairly so that every member of the public is able to make informed decisions. This is a genuine call to the press to realise the significant role it plays in society as a defendant of democracy and start acting like it is supposed to.

Stephania Xenophontos is an in-house lawyer at a private company