Democracy/Information Manipulation – How democracies can win an information contest without undercutting their values (Brookings

Jessica Brandt writes: Dueling French and Russian trolls sparred with one another online as they vied for influence in multiple African countries, Facebook revealed late last year. It was the first time the platform called out individuals affiliated with a Western liberal democratic government for coordinated inauthentic behavior on its platform. The French operation, which had been underway since 2018, used fake accounts to pose as locals in target countries, commenting on content related to current events and pushing back on criticisms of French foreign policy posted by the Russian operation. “We have these two efforts from different sides of these issues using the same tactics and techniques,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, said of the episode, “and they end up looking sort of the same.” That is a problem.

go to Brookings: How democracies can win an information contest without undercutting their values (


(Global) Autocracy vs democracy

Kaush Arha writes for Atlantic Council: The competition between autocracy and democracy is the defining challenge of the twenty-first century—one that will in part play out through control over the digital and physical infrastructure that increasingly binds the world together.

read the analysis: Rallying the world’s democracies with ‘trusted connectivity’ – Atlantic Council

Rallying the world’s democracies with ‘trusted connectivity’

A woman, wearing a protective face mask, walks past a 5G data network sign at a mobile phone store in Paris, France, on April 22, 2021. Photo by Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters.


Democracy/Big Data – Whose Democracy Counts When Global Social Media Rules Are Set? (Heidi Tworek, CIGI)


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress on Capitol Hill in 2018 about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. (Win McNamee/Pool Photo via AP)

Is social media destroying democracy? It’s a question that animates discussions around the world. But it’s striking that the debates so often focus on the “social media” part of this question and seldom interrogate the other part — democracy. What actually is democracy, and what parts specifically might social media be undermining? These are not academic issues but ones that strike at the heart of how governments, platforms and civil society conceive of this problem.

Even more striking is where this question is asked. In early June 2021, more than 100 prominent scholars signed a statement of concern about American democracy. Similarly, an enormous amount of ink was spilled over the Facebook Oversight Board ruling on former US president Donald Trump’s suspension from the social media platform as well as over Facebook’s subsequent decision to lift the special designation for politicians, a move again based on Trump’s use of the platform. Yet 96 percent of the world’s population lives outside the United States. One statement of concern from 35 global civil society organizations noted that “a knee-jerk response for a few select markets might be easier and cheaper for the companies, but not appropriate for defending democracy and human rights.” Whose democracy counts when global rules are made on the basis of one US politician’s behaviour?

Instead of talking about democracy as an abstract, ill-defined ideal, we can examine different definitions of democracy and consider the role of social media in each. By breaking down the components of democracy, we can piece together a more complete picture of how platform governance might address each issue. Perhaps even more crucially, we can follow a global thread to see how solutions that might seem to work in one democracy may prove harmful or extremely complicated in another.

Scholarship on democracy is, of course, voluminous, and the concept itself debated. What democracy meant in the nineteenth century — before, for example, women could vote — is obviously very different from what democracy means in the twenty-first century. Indeed, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book How Democracies Die drew on historical examples from around the world to understand how democracies can fade away. So, too, democracy differs depending on where we are — a point that seems less clear in the realm of social media, where companies often seek global solutions.

In a report for the European Union, Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues defined democracy using the three essential principles of “equality, representation and participation.” Jennifer Forestal has reached back to Hannah Arendt to posit that democracy online needs to foster “both equality and difference.” Forestal suggests that online spaces such as Facebook should be judged on their ability to bring together users around shared interests while simultaneously enabling them to disagree and put forth diverse ideas. Other definitions of democracy discuss notions of popular sovereignty or responsiveness to public demands.

Yet each one of these definitions can be used to justify both democratic and undemocratic solutions. One example of this problem lies in ideas around sovereignty. In February 2020, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission and former German defence minister, described the European Union’s new digital strategy as gaining “tech sovereignty” from US-based platforms and retailers such as Amazon, Google and Facebook. Such debates have underlain the drafts for the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act currently under debate in the European Union.

In early June 2021, more than 100 prominent scholars signed a statement of concern about American democracy. Similarly, an enormous amount of ink was spilled over the Facebook Oversight Board ruling on former US president Donald Trump’s suspension from the social media platform as well as over Facebook’s subsequent decision to lift the special designation for politicians.

At the same time, few seem prepared to confront how such discourse can unintentionally sound remarkably similar to efforts in authoritarian regimes such as Russia. In early 2019, for instance, Russia passed a “sovereign internet” bill to “ensure the reliable operation of the Russian segment of the internet in the event of disconnection from the global infrastructure of the World Wide Web.” The Russian bill clearly differs substantially from European efforts. For one thing, Russia is aiming to create an autonomous system that can easily be closed off from the outside world. At the same time, it shows how sovereignty talk can swiftly slip from democratic to authoritarian realms.

Other solutions, too, can seem welcome in one democracy but worrisome elsewhere. For some observers, the German Network Enforcement Act (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, or NetzDG) of 2018 showed that states could push social media companies to adhere to national law. The NetzDG law required social media companies to respond within 24 hours to reports of speech that violated any of the 22 statutes of German speech law or else face steep fines. While this law has vastly increased the number of content moderators working in the German language for Facebook, for example, it also raised concerns about serving as a model for less democratically minded countries that sought to suppress speech, as Jacob Mchangama and Joelle Fiss pointed out in a report for the Copenhagen-based think tank Justitia.

Mchangama and Fiss note that NetzDG incorporates democratic safeguards and that many authoritarian countries would likely have proceeded on this path anyway. But they suggest that NetzDG “seems to have provided several states with both the justification and the basic model for swift and decisive action.” Some policy makers have argued that authoritarian states will censor and limit speech regardless of how democracies act. Others believe that democracies should create solutions that cannot be easily copied for anti-democratic ends. Such critics worry that NetzDG’s very construction lent itself to adaptation by authoritarian states seeking to restrict legitimate critique. While many authoritarian countries were already pursuing such censorship measures, it is important to consider how democratic countries might have set a higher standard of democratic accountability that would be harder to co-opt for authoritarian purposes.

Another example is the idea of making a local representative legally liable for a company’s actions. This approach seems intuitively helpful in democracies such as the United Kingdom, which was unable to subpoena Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the British Parliament in 2019. That problem helped to spark the creation of the International Grand Committee, a coalition of governments around the world seeking to hold social media companies to account. And, indeed, holding C-suite executives liable for their company’s actions could make a tremendous difference to their actions.

At the same time, Turkey’s new social media law of 2020 makes a similar-sounding requirement. Since Turkey has already severely constrained the freedom of newspapers, television and the judiciary, social media seemed to be the last bastion of freer political debate. Forcing Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to choose between appointing a local legal representative or being blocked from the country could be “the nail in the coffin for online freedom of speech” in Turkey, according to Cathryn Grothe of Freedom House.

In the end, it did not matter too much to Canadians if they could not see ads served by Google when there were plenty of other places to learn about the election….what would happen if we ran a simulation of that Canadian policy in other democracies around the world?

Again, Turkey’s suggestion does differ from other democracies’ idea of how to hold executives liable. In Turkey, the representative will be made liable for content removals ordered by the court, which are supposed to happen within 24 hours. But this should remind democracies that no policy suggestion lives in a vacuum. Even more crucially, we should remain wary of solutions based on negotiations conducted solely between companies and governments. Civil society organizations warn about potential dangers to free speech for a reason: they have seen how regulations can be co-opted to suppress human rights around the world.

Given the global nature of platforms, therefore, it may behoove democracies to add global ramifications to their list of policy considerations. When Canada promulgated its Elections Modernization Act in time for the 2019 federal election, the act contained important transparency provisions for advertisements on social media. Facebook chose to comply and serve election ads in Canada; Google did not.

On the one hand, this seemed to show that democracies can still use regulatory power to ensure that their elections are run in a free, fair and transparent fashion. In the end, it did not matter too much to Canadians if they could not see ads served by Google when there were plenty of other places to learn about the election.

On the other hand, what would happen if we ran a simulation of that Canadian policy in other democracies around the world? Would the policy similarly make sense for these jurisdictions? Might such a test be as important a part of policy making as algorithmic impact assessments?

As David Murakami Wood recently warned, national solutions will only go so far: because platforms are “emerging alternatives to nation-states,” each local solution can only be “part of a process.” The other issue is that solutions have unintended consequences, often in places far beyond their original implementation. These are some of the many reasons why a global platform governance research agenda is so important. Sonja Solomun has laid out many more in describing a new platform governance research network that was launched with its first conference in March 2021 (I was one of the co-organizers). Policy makers who believe in democracy have a duty to think about and understand the other 96 percent of the world’s population.

Once we recognize that democracy itself is not a stable historical or geographical concept, we can ask more interesting questions, such as, “How is social media affecting different aspects of democracy in different places?” We can recognize that a regulation that seems to shore up democracy in one place may undermine another democratic value elsewhere.

One way to think about democracy is as a Venn diagram of values. For different democracies, these values overlap in different ways. And, indeed, no democracy really achieves all those ideals. As Astra Taylor has put it, democracies strive to be democratic but perhaps never wholly are. One crucial way for them to move forward is to recognize that policies made in one democracy can have unstable, unexpected and undemocratic consequences elsewhere.

There are no easy solutions to the dilemmas that I have raised. Democracies want and need to move forward with approaches to address the ecosystemic challenges of platform governance. But the cautionary tales outlined above mean that European and North American democracies cannot remain ignorant of the ramifications of their policies elsewhere.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.

Heidi Tworek is a CIGI senior fellow and an expert on platform governance, the history of media technologies, and health communications. She is an associate professor of public policy and international history at the University of British Columbia.


Global – Deepfakes, Disinformation, and Democracy (ITIF)

The media has long played an important role in a healthy democracy, providing citizens with access to accurate news and information that allows them to effectively participate in democratic processes. However, the growing threat from deepfakes and disinformation, from both foreign and domestic sources, threatens to overwhelm the ability of individuals to discern fact from fiction, create new divides in society, and allow conspiracies, lies, and hoaxes to fester online.

Deepfakes, Disinformation, and Democracy | ITIF


Democracy/Local Governments – Want the Summit for Democracy to develop solutions? Include local governments (Brookings)

Patrick W. Quirk and Eguiar Lizundia

The Biden administration has committed to organizing a “Summit for Democracy” to galvanize support for combating authoritarianism, fighting corruption so often associated with autocracy, and advancing human rights.  The global gathering is part of the president’s stated goal of placing democracy and human rights at the heart of his foreign policy.

Want the Summit for Democracy to develop solutions? Include local governments


Democracy/Technology – Democracy: Debugging in process (ORF)


It is important to harness informed technology so that we protect against and mitigate the very risks that are likely to play spoilsport in our attempt to strengthen the efficacy and accountability of government functioning.


USA – Protecting democracy and containing autocracy (Brookings)

Michael HaisDoug Ross, and Morley Winograd

Democracy has been under increasing assault in the U.S. over the course of this century. Sixty percent of white working class Americans agreed with the statement that “because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” Although only 40% of all Americans felt that way in 2017, almost 47% of them voted in 2020 to support a candidate for president who exhibited blatant authoritarian behavior. For the first time since the 1930’s, the competition between democracy and autocracy to determine how we will be governed in the future is in doubt.

Protecting democracy and containing autocracy


Defending democracies from disinformation and cyber-enabled foreign interference (The Strategist)


The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unique societal stress as governments worldwide and their citizens have struggled to work together to contain the virus and mitigate its economic impact. This has been a trying time for democracies, testing the capacity of democratic governance to mobilise state and citizenry to work together. It has also tested the integrity of open information environments and the ability of these environments to deal with the overlapping challenges of disinformation, misinformation, election interference and cyber-enabled foreign interference.

Defending democracies from disinformation and cyber-enabled foreign interference


(USA/Cybersecurity/Democracy) Biden rebuilds cybersecurity alliances but risks creating a techno-democratic clique (East Asia Forum)

Julia Voo, Harvard Kennedy School

Under Donald Trump, US global leadership on cyber issues came to a screeching halt. But ‘America is back’ under President Joe Biden. Observers can expect sensible, expert-crafted policy that unpicks the policy discord while maintaining the previous administration’s focus on technology competition and trusted networks.

Biden rebuilds cybersecurity alliances but risks creating a techno-democratic clique

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